Just as many health experts had suspected, the mystery stomach bug that sickened 372 people in 15 different states seems to be linked to produce — in this case, bagged salad mix. ABC News reported (via Yahoo Finance) Wednesday that health officials in Iowa and Nebraska believe they have found the avenue by which a cyclospora outbreak entered the population over the last month. Although authorities aren’t releasing the brand name(s) of the bagged salads that were contaminated, the Iowa investigators are reasonably certain of the source and believe that follow-up measures by state and federal health agencies will corroborate the findings.
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported that it suspected a prepackaged salad mix as the source of the cyclospora outbreak. Iowa was the hardest hit state, accounting for 143 of the known cases. Of those, roughly 80 percent had been exposed to the same type of bagged salad mix.
As to why officials were not releasing the name of the contaminated brand(s) of salad, they noted that the time frame had allowed for the contaminated cases to have already left the Iowa food supply chain. Releasing the brand name would only hurt the brand’s sales due to cautious boycotting (and there exists the chance that the cyclospora parasite might originate elsewhere).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in a statement that they would continue working with various federal, state, and local agencies to see if ” this conclusion applies to the increased number of cases of cyclosporiasis in other states.” The FDA has yet to wrap up their investigation and are hoping to find a the source(s) for all the cases of cyclosporiasis reported in the affected states.
The FDA has a 7-person team working on the case and note that the investigation is laborious and intense.
The Centers for Disease Control noted in earlier bulletins that the cyclospora infection was usually disseminated via imported fresh produce. The stomach bug infection itself, called cyclosporiasis, is generally contracted through ingesting contaminated foodstuffs or drinking water.
If a person contracts the parasitic protozoan, symptoms to be aware of are cramping, bloating, gas, nausea, fatigue, and prolonged diarrhea. In fact, Iowa officials warn that the diarrhea can last as long as eight weeks.
The FDA has cautioned consumers to perform safe food handling and preparation. Such would include the washing hands, utensils and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling any food.
Although a recall might not be necessary in this case (i.e., if the Iowa health officials are correct that the contaminated bagged salads have exited the food supply chain — due, of course, to short shelf life), several recalls of bagged and fresh produce have occurred in recent years. In December last year, Dole recalled bags of its 12 oz. American blend bagged mixed salad in ten states for fear of listeria contamination. Dole also recalled bagged salads in June in six southeastern states over a listeria scare and 756 cases of its Seven Lettuces bagged salad, distributed in 14 states, in April over fears of salmonella contamination. No illnesses were reported from these possibly infected prepackaged produce batches.