- Cilantro or Coriandrum sativum is a member of the Apiaceae family and amongst the most widely used of medicinal plants. It is an annual herb that closely resembles parsley.
- It is also called Mexican parsley, and in tropical Asia, it is called Chinese parsley. In Europe, the entire plant is known as coriander (Czech), coriandolo (Italy), and cilantro (Spain). In Germany, it is called coriander and in France, coriandre. It is called dhania in Kenya and India, Shiang Tsai in mandarin, Yim Sai in Cantonese, koosuhburah in Hebrew, and koendoro in Japanese.(8)
- Cilantro is safe if consumed cooked, but it is typically consumed raw as a garnish or as an ingredient for various types of foods in almost all parts of the world
- Cilantro is an annual crop and has several different varieties.
- Dried seeds are called coriander.
- All parts of the plant have been used as traditional remedies for the treatment of various malaises.
Cilantro is an herb that is used in a variety of foods (cooked and raw) and is also used as a garnish. It is commonly used in regional foods from the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia. Coriander was introduced to the Americas in the 1600s. There are many reports of the use of coriander seeds throughout history. Seeds were found in an 8,000-year-old cave in Israel, and there are ancient Sanskrit and biblical references to coriander. Coriander seeds were found scattered in King Tut’s tomb, as well. Coriander oil (obtained by steam distillation of the dried seeds) has been used in the fragrance industry and as a food ingredient.(4,8,12)
Several outbreaks associated with cilantro consumption have been reported, including recent U.S. outbreaks of cyclosporiasis between 2013-2015 that resulted in an import alert. In 1999, an outbreak of salmonellosis in California was associated with eating cilantro. Thirty-five sporadic cases and a restaurant-associated outbreak (41 cases) were linked to eating cilantro. Three of the five implicated restaurants received cilantro from the same region in Mexico.2,6) Cilantro from the same region was also associated with an outbreak of shigellosis in California.
In 2004, a survey on fresh produce was conducted by FDA. The presence of Salmonella spp was confirmed in 28 cilantro samples that were in or entering commerce. These were produced both inside and outside of the U.S.(9)
The Microbiological Data Program (MDP) issued reports of Salmonella in fresh produce in the U.S. for 11 years (2002-2012). An average of 12,000 fresh produce samples annually were tested for the presence of bacterial pathogens. During the years 2004-2012, cilantro was PCR positive for Salmonella (52/9245) with 31 confirmed by microbiological cultures. Overall the % prevalence of Salmonella in cilantro was 0.34.(13)
In 2013, a study in Belgium was conducted to determine the microbiological quality of pre-packaged fresh basil and cilantro leaves. These products were obtained from the most important Belgian trading company with herbs originating from Belgium, Cyprus, and Israel. Coliforms were present in all samples tested: Shiga Toxin-Producing E. coli (STEC) was identified in 3/100, 8/100, and 1/100 from samples originating from Israel, Cyprus, and Belgium respectively. Salmonella was detected only in cilantro originating from Cyprus (5/100).(7)
In June-July 2013, 631 cases of cyclosporiasis were reported in 25 states and New York City in the U.S. Illnesses in Texas were associated with imported cilantro from Puebla, Mexico.
In 2014, cyclosporiasis was confirmed in 304 ill persons in the U.S. Of those, 207 had no travel history and 64% of the cases occurred in Texas. Epidemiologic investigation and traceback investigations indicated that some of the illnesses were linked to cilantro imported from Puebla, Mexico. Most of the cases occurred from May to August.
In 2015, again in the U.S., an outbreak of cyclosporiasis affecting 546 persons was confirmed in 31 states. Epidemiologic investigation of clusters of illness in Texas, Wisconsin, and Georgia revealed that many of the illnesses were linked to consumption of fresh cilantro from Puebla, Mexico. The onset of illness of this outbreak was between May to August.(2)
Import restrictions to the U.S.
Due to the outbreaks of foodborne Cyclospora infections and their association to cilantro produced in Puebla, Mexico, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an import alert to its field personnel. The alert stated:
“Districts may detain, without physical examination, shipments of fresh cilantro from Puebla offered for entry every year from April 1 to August 31, unless the product comes from a firm listed in the Green List of this import alert. The alert covers fresh cilantro (intact, cut, or chopped). Since this alert is subject to Refusal of Admission per Section 801(a)(1) of the Act, FDA considers Cyclospora negative results from analytical analysis of the cilantro as insufficient evidence to overcome the appearance the product as it may have been prepared, packed or held under unsanitary conditions. In addition, the occurrence of a violation per Section 801(a)(1) of the Act precludes reconditioning under Section 801(b) of the Act [ADULTERATION, Section 402(a)(4)]. Importers from the State of Puebla must provide documentation (i.e., invoices, bills of lading) declaring the source farm(s) on which the cilantro was grown.
Verification of acceptable production practices in Mexico may occur through inspection and certification of farms by SENASICA through its System for Reduction of Risk from Contamination (SRRC) program, and inspection and certification of processing facilities complying with Good Production Practices can be certified by COFEPRIS. FDA (either solely or in partnership with the relevant Mexican regulatory authority) may conduct on-site inspections of the growing/processing areas to access the validity of the information submitted to FDA”.(3)
Cilantro grows best under cool conditions and can withstand temperatures as low as 10°C. Seeds germinate within 1-2 weeks and harvesting takes about 120 days.(11) Flowering usually occurs when the temperatures increase. At warm temperatures, cilantro plants will flower 4-6 weeks after planting. Plants prefer a sunny location and a well-drained soil. In the U.S., cilantro is grown commercially mostly along the southern and central coast of California. The main harvests are between March and mid-November.(14) Winter crops are harvested from November to March.
In 2008, Mexico was the largest worldwide cilantro exporter, with about 42 million Kg of cilantro. In 2004, California was the state with the largest cilantro production (25.5 million Kg) in the US.(12) Annual cilantro production averages 8-11 tons per acre. Cilantro is harvested by hand and sold in bunches, or is machine harvested for food service and processing. Cilantro is typically packed in 10-pound boxes with 30 bunches per box. After harvest, cilantro is hydro-cooled or iced in storage facilities. Boxes are held at 33-35°F for shipment and have a shelf life of at least 14 days.(14)
In order to produce safe cilantro, Good Agricultural Practices need to be implemented during pre-harvest application of irrigation water and soil amendments. During harvest and post-harvest, personnel (field, harvest, and packers) should be healthy and apply good hygienic practices, including availability and use of toilets and hand washing facilities.
For more information regarding the production and distribution of cilantro please visit the Produce Point of Origin Database.
As with most crops with the edible portion close to the soil, both soil and water quality are critical for safe cilantro products, especially when they are consumed raw. A study from 1994-2012 revealed that 0.34% of 9,245 cilantro samples were Salmonella-positive.(13)
The FDA has conducted two studies of herbs/spices since 2004 and confirmed Salmonella spp in 28 cilantro samples available or to be available for commerce. The cilantro was produced both inside and outside of the U.S. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture conducted a survey of produce in Canada and identified E. coli in 4.9% of the cilantro samples tested. A 1999 imported produce survey performed by FDA revealed that 9% of 1000 samples of imported cilantro was violative, as was 3.3% of the positive samples tested in 2001. A 2000/2001 survey of domestic cilantro revealed that 1.2% were violative.(1)
Because of the resilience and environmental resistance of this parasite, good agricultural practices are critical to preventing contamination of cilantro with Cyclospora oocysts. Good agricultural practices, particularly not applying human fecal waste to the agricultural fields, help minimize the risk of contamination.
The FDA import alert described the conditions found in various farms and packing houses, stating:
“Conditions observed at multiple such firms in the state of Puebla included human feces and toilet paper found in growing fields and around facilities; inadequately maintained and supplied toilet and hand washing facilities (no soap, no toilet paper, no running water, no paper towels) or a complete lack of toilet and hand washing facilities; food-contact surfaces (such as plastic crates used to transport cilantro or tables where cilantro was cut and bundled) visibly dirty and not washed; and water used for purposes such as washing cilantro vulnerable to contamination from sewage/septic systems. In addition, at one such firm, water in a holding tank used to provide water to employees to wash their hands at the bathrooms was found to be positive for C. cayetanensis”.
The FDA also indicated that the cilantro industry should pay particular attention to the “water adequacy for irrigation, agricultural sprays, cooling, and other uses; soil amendment and biosolids; animal management; worker health and hygiene; sanitary facilities, disposal of sewage and silage; equipment cleaning and sanitation; farm or facility sanitation; transportation; and programs to monitor produce safety practices, processes and procedures, and to take corrective actions when measures fail or are not fully implemented”.(3)
More information on keeping and storing herbs like cilantro can be found at FoodKeeper App.
Cilantro has a very strong aroma and flavor. Although many people enjoy it, others cannot tolerate its flavor or odor. People generally love it or hate it. There have been reports of individuals with sensitivity and allergies to coriander and cilantro leaves.
Cilantro is the main ingredient in many sauces that complement grilled meats. It is also widely used in Mexican foods, such as salsa and guacamole, and in Thai and Vietnamese foods, including Phò.
Coriander oil has been given the product designation “generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use in food” by the FDA (21 CFR 182.2), by the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) (2334 GRAS III), and by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Average concentrations in foods vary from 0.1-100 ppm. Linalool is the major component of coriander oil. Coriander oil has a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard reference (2016), cilantro is very low in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol. It is a source of thiamin and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), vitamin K, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.(16)
Cilantro has been used by people as a natural treatment for a variety of malaises. Coriander seeds have been used in treating indigestion, nausea, and dysentery, and the leaves have been used to stimulate the appetite and help with digestion.(5,10)
- Anonymous. A FDA Survey of Domestic Fresh Produce FY 2000/2001 Field Assignment [internet], available: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/ProducePlantProducts/ucm118306.htm
- Anonymous. Cyclosporiasis Outbreak Investigations — United States[internet] Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/cyclosporiasis/outbreaks/2015/
- Anonymous. Detention without physical examination of fresh cilantro from the State of Puebla, Mexico. Import Alert #24-23. [Internet] 2016. Available from: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cms_ia/ialist.html
- Balslev, L. Cilantro: The Controversial Herb. 2010. [Internet] Available from: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127092887
- Burdock GA and Carabin IG. Safety assessment of coriander (Coriander sativum L.) essential oil as food ingredient Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2009;47;22-34.
- Campbell JV, Mohle-Boetani J., Reporter R, Abbott S, Farrar J, Brandl M, Mandrell R, Werner SB. An Outbreak of Salmonella Serotype Thompson Associated with Fresh Cilantro. J Infect Dis. 2001;183:984-987.
- Delbeke S, Ceuppens S, Jacxsens L, Uyttendaele M.Microbiological analysis of pre-packed sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) and coriander (Coriandrumsativum) leaves for the presence of Salmonella spp. and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. International Journal of Food Microbiology 2015;208:11-18.
- Hollingsworth E. Cilantro around the world. [Internet]. I hate cilantro. Available:https://ihatecilantro.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/cilantro-around-the-world/
- Landa, M. Guidance for Industry: Letter to Firms that Grow, Harvest, Sort, Pack, or Ship Fresh Cilantro[internet] 2011; Available: http://www.fda.gov/regulatoryinformation/guidances/ucm249401.htm
- Laribi B, Kouki K, M’Hamdi M, Bettaieba B. Coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.) and its bioactive constituents. Fitotherapy. 2015;203:9-26.
- Mangan F, VanVraken. WorldCrops for Northern United States. 2015. Cilantro. [internet] Available from: https://worldcrops.org/crops/cilantro
- Morales-Payan, J.P Herbs and leaf crops: cilantro, broadleaf cilantro, and vegetable amaranth, in Soils, Plant Growth and Crop Production, [Ed. Willy H. Verheye], 2011; in Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), Eolss Publishers, Paris, France, Available: http://www.eolss.net
- Reddy SP, Wang H, Adams JK, Feng PCH. Prevalence and Characteristics of Salmonella Serotypes Isolated from Fresh Produce Marketed in the United States. Journal of Food Protection. 2016;79: 6-16
- Smith R, Bi J, Cahn M, Cantwell M, Daugivish O, Koikke S, et al. Cilantro production in California. University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources. Publication 7236. http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/7236.pdf
- Tsang TH, Brawley L, Abbott S, Werner S, Vugia D. Large Shigella sonnei outbreak linked to salsa in California, 1998 (abstract P10). In: Program and abstracts of the 48thAnnual Epidemic Intelligence Service Conference (Atlanta). Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1999:51.
- US Department of Agriculture. Basic report 11165, coriander (cilantro) leaves, raw. 2016. [Internet] Available from: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2931?fgcd=&manu=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=35&offset=&sort=&qlookup=cilantro