Nearly 25 percent of fresh herb samples purchased at farmers markets in Los Angeles and Orange counties in California and in the Seattle area were contaminated with significant levels of E. coli bacteria, a new investigation discovered. One of the samples contained salmonella as well.
The herbs purchased included cilantro, basil and parsley, and were sourced from close to 50 vendors at more than a dozen farmers market locations in the three metro areas.
The study was published in the recent issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
“While farmers markets can become certified to ensure that each farmer is actually growing the commodities being sold, food safety is not addressed as part of the certification process,” study co-author Rosalee Hellberg, assistant professor in the Food Science Program at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., said in a university news release.
“Certain herbs such as parsley, basil and cilantro have been implicated in many food outbreaks over the past two decades, so our study focused specifically on the safety and quality of these three herbs,” she added.
According to the study, 16 of the herbs sampled had contamination levels that the Public Health Laboratory Service guidelines consider “unsatisfactory.” Fourteen of the samples also included “suspicious growth” activity.
E. coli and salmonella can cause serious illness requiring hospitalization. Both can include symptoms such as cramping and diarrhea. E. coli can include vomiting and bloody diarrhea and salmonella can also include high fevers. Both can even be deadly in vulnerable individuals such as infants and the elderly.
In 2011, USDA testing revealed more than 30 unapproved pesticides on fresh cilantro.
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