Looks like your friends whom you used to laugh at for thinking cilantro tastes like soap may have gotten the last laugh after all.
We really wish we didn't have to be the bearer of bad news for this one, but it may be time to curb your summertime guacamole addiction—unless you want to risk getting explosive diarrhea because of the possibly tainted Mexican cilantro in it. Cilantro grown in Mexico's state of Puebla has been linked to 305 cases of cyclosporiasis in the US over the past three years—and authorities now know why. After recent outbreaks in Texas, the situation has gotten so bad that the US has implemented a partial ban on Puebla-grown cilantro.
A statement issued by the US Food and Drug Administration in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes the unhygienic conditions of the eight farms, noting that human feces and even shreds of toilet paper were found in the fields where the cilantro was growing. Additionally, the farms had squalid restroom conditions and hand-washing facilities that had "no soap, no toilet paper, no running water, [and] no paper towels," or a lack of restrooms completely. Authorities believe that the contamination was further spread by filthy crates and surfaces, as well as water holding tanks exposed to sewage. One farm even had a hand-washing station that was dispensing water that tested positive for cyclosporiasis.
So what is cyclosporiasis? It's a human-specific parasite that causes severe diarrhea. It is mostly seen in tropical areas of the world, and is contracted through contaminated food or water. And it's a nasty bug.
As for the risk for American consumers, Bloomberg has reached out to US fast-food chains such as Taco Bell and Chipotle and found that they use California-grown cilantro. Dried cilantro is also off the hook. ("Cutting and chopping cilantro increases the opportunity for contamination and the chance of cross-contamination over an even larger volume of product," the FDA statement notes. "However, multi-ingredient processed foods that contain cilantro as an ingredient are not covered under this alert and neither is cilantro that has been processed in other ways besides being cut or chopped.")
But if you're buying your cilantro fresh and are concerned about its region of origin, you can ask your local grocery store's produce manager where their cilantro was sourced. Though, as of now, all imports of cilantro from Puebla have been ceased per the FDA order anyhow.
In the meantime, may we recommend maybe trying some minced epazote as a topping for your tacos or in your guacamole? Its flavor may be a little earthier than cilantro at first. But hey—at least you can rest assured that you won't be eating poop.