As the outbreak of cyclospora tops 450 in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has linked the illness in two of the states to a salad mix processed in Mexico, although it is still unsure of the origin of the illness in the other 14 states.
Cyclospora is a foodborne parasite that can cause intestinal sickness, including severe diarrhea. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported an additional 44 cases of the illness over the weekend, bringing to 469 the number of known cyclosporiasis cases in 16 states.
The FDA said Aug. 3 that the cases in Iowa and Nebraska were traced back to Taylor Farms, a Mexico supplier of a salad mix to Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants that apparently caused 146 in Iowa and 86 in Nebraska to get sick. The FDA said it inspected the facility in 2011 and found “no notable issues.” It also said it would conduct an assessment “to try to learn the probable cause” of the outbreak and identify “preventive controls” to stop a recurrence. For its part, Taylor Farms released a statement saying its facility is “state of the art and has an exceptional food safety record.”
But what about the outbreak in the other 14 states? The FDA said it “is not yet clear whether the cases reported” elsewhere “are all part of the same outbreak.” The story is even more puzzling with news out of Texas that at least some residents got sick from eating at Olive Garden and Red Lobster but that the salad mixes at those Texas restaurants did not come from Taylor Farms, a representative for Darden Restaurants – which owns the two chains – told NBC News.
The cyclospora outbreak comes as the FDA tries to toughen the standards on imported food. As Off The Grid News reported, only two percent of the fresh fruit and vegetables imported into the US are inspected. That’s significant because 50 percent of the fresh fruit and 20 percent of the fresh vegetables Americans consume comes from other countries.
Under the proposed FDA rules, imported fruits and vegetables will be subject to the same standards as are domestically produced food. But those rules are at least months away from being implemented.
Any new FDA rules will be too late to help Megan Provost, who ate a salad at an Olive Garden in Kansas and became sick six days later, ABC News reported. She called it the worst sickness of her life.
“I felt like somebody socked me in the stomach,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
Bill Marler, a lawyer who specializes in foodborne illness cases, said most of the cases likely are linked.
“Cyclospora is rare – especially in the US – so the chances of most, not all, not being related to the same product and/or manufacturer is very, very slight,” he said.
The FDA said it is “increasing its surveillance efforts on green leafy products” imported from Mexico.
Consumers following news of the outbreak likely are frustrated by the lack of information in the other 14 states. Time.com said such investigations rarely are done quickly.
“Obtaining a complete and accurate understanding of the entire chain of distribution from manufacturing to retail is a challenge in outbreaks,” Theresa Eisenman, an FDA spokesperson, told Time. “In some situations, there can be hundreds of entities including wholesalers, brokers, distributors and retailers. In many cases, the records are not in electronic form and require extensive, time-consuming, manual data collection and review.”
In addition to Iowa, Nebraska and Texas, the other states where cases of cyclospora have been reported are Wisconsin, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Ohio.