WASHINGTON, July 27, 2016 - The Food and Drug Administration is trying to prevent foodborne illnesses by sampling products before problems occur, not after people have already gotten sick.

The effort has its origins in the prevention-oriented mandate of the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act and “complements the FDA’s longstanding approach to sampling, which has employed for-cause and targeted strategies to monitor known hazards,” the agency said in a report containing final test data on raw milk cheese aged 60 days. FDA also released preliminary data on hot peppers and cucumbers.

The “larger, in-depth surveys of products and commodities . . . enable the FDA to determine the prevalence of contamination in instances where it does not otherwise have enough data to do so,” FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said. “Such studies also may shed light on areas of needed focus or issues of food safety that must be addressed.”

In testing of 1,606 samples in 2014 and 2015, FDA found raw milk cheese aged 60 days to have less than a 1 percent contamination rate for Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157:H7 and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

The overall contamination rate for generic E. coli was 5.4 percent. “Generic E. coli rarely causes illness, but has been used in the many countries, including the United States, as an indicator of insanitary processing conditions,” FDA said.

The agency doesn’t anticipate conducting large-scale sampling of raw milk cheese but will continue to do routine sampling.

FDA also is continuing to test cucumbers and hot peppers because these products “have previously been involved in large-scale outbreaks, resulting in hospitalizations and in the case of hot peppers, two deaths,” the agency said.

Mexican cucumbers sold in the U.S. sickened 907 people in 40 states, from July 2015 through March 2016. Four deaths were linked to salmonella contamination in cucumbers.

The agency has tested 452 samples of hot peppers and 352 samples of cucumbers out of a planned total of about 1600 samples. So far, 13 of the hot pepper samples and three cucumber samples have tested positive for Salmonella while the rest tested negative for targeted pathogens including E. coli. “This testing is still underway and no conclusions can be drawn at this time,” FDA said.

FDA also has been testing sprouts and avocados and plans to release results soon, an FDA spokesperson said.


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