The FDA released test results of commodity sampling last week. The products sampled were raw milk cheese aged 60 days, cucumbers, and hot peppers. This sampling program is part of an effort to help ensure food safety. This program was adopted in 2014 to learn more about the prevalence of disease-causing bacteria in foods and to help the agency identify patterns to help prevent future contamination.
Raw milk cheese aged 60 days was one of the commodities selected for the first year of testing. Evidence indicates that aging this product for 60 days may not eliminate or adequately reduce disease causing bacteria, posing a hazard. People may still get sick with E. coli, Salmonella, or Listeria monocytogenes infections if they eat these cheeses. And they can suffer serious complications, especially if they are elderly, very young, or have other health problems.
After testing 1,606 samples in 2014 and 2015, FDA found raw milk cheese aged 60 days or more has less than one percent contamination rate for Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7 and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). The overall contamination rate for generic E. coli was 5.4%. (Generic E. coli is used as an indicator of insanitary processing conditions.)
Because of these results, the FDA is not going to conduct additional large-scale sampling of raw milk cheese, but will utilize its Domestic and Imported Cheese Compliance Program for routine sampling. But the FDA is still concerned about the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in raw milk cheese, which is a ready-to-eat food, and will take action “as necessary.”
Cucumbers and hot peppers have been involved in large scale food poisoning outbreaks in the past that have led to hospitalizations and two deaths (hot peppers). The agency is collecting and testing 1,600 samples for Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 in cucumbers, and Salmonella, STEC, and E. coli O157:H7 in hot peppers. So far, 13 of the hot pepper samples and three cucumber samples tested positive for Salmonella; the rest were negative.
The FDA says that no conclusions can be drawn at this time on the cucumber and hot pepper testing, since it is still underway. The FDA will continue to share results on the web as they become available.