Fresh Herbs Are Grosser Than You Think

The Food and Drug Administration shocked us all on February 23 by revealing details on just how many bacteria are hiding in fresh, store-bought herbs. The agency plans to continue testing herbs through 2019 to thoroughly assess their "rates of bacterial contamination."

The plan is to test 1,600 samples of items "typically eaten without having undergone a 'kill step,' such as cooking, to reduce or eliminate bacteria." These items include fresh cilantro, parsley, and basil.

This first round of results revealed that of the 139 fresh herb samples tested, four tested positive for salmonella and three contained E. coli bacteria. In other words, fresh herbs could give you food poisoning if you happen to purchase an infected sample.

Food poisoning is what prompted the testing in the first place — in the span of 20 years, from 1996 to 2015, the FDA linked 2,699 illnesses and 84 hospitalizations to fresh herbs.

The FDA also plans to sample processed avocado for similar reasons — from 2005 to 2015, 525 illnesses were linked to avocados in 12 separate outbreaks. Of 107 avocado and guacamole samples in the initial results, four contained listeria. Avocados, the FDA notes, "have a high moisture content and a non-acidic pH level, conditions that can support the growth of harmful bacteria." That's sad news for avocado lovers everywhere, since there's no practical way to wash guacamole without ruining your lunch.

You can, however, wash your herbs. But you're probably washing them wrong — learn the right way to wash herbs and other popular produce here.