- A widespread stomach illness outbreak affecting over 400 people across 16 states and New York City has been traced back to a farm in Mexico, which supplied salad to Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants.
- The infection is due to the foodborne cyclospora parasite, as indicated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- The farm involved, Taylor Farms de Mexico, has defended their exhaustive water-testing program which displayed no evidence of the parasite in their product.
- Cyclospora infection, while not typically life-threatening, can cause severe illness, with symptoms including abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating, nausea, fatigue, fever, headaches and body aches.
- To avoid cyclospora infection experts recommend thorough washing of all fruits, vegetables, and salads before consumption.
U.S. health officials have located the source of a widespread stomach illness outbreak, affecting over 400 people across 16 states and New York City. The outbreak, which began in June, has been traced back to a farm in Mexico. The farm supplied the salad mix consumed in Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants.
An Outbreak Infecting Hundreds
The foodborne cyclospora parasite is to blame for the infection, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, Nebraska and Iowa illnesses have been traced back to Taylor Farms de Mexico, the Mexican branch of Taylor Farms, situated in Salinas, California.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced via its website that the prepackaged salad mix from this farm could be the potential cause of infections in other states. However, they clarified that it is still “not yet clear whether the cases reported from other states are all part of the same outbreak.”
An Unexpected Revelation
The news took Darden Restaurants, parent company of Olive Garden and Red Lobster, by surprise. The company conveyed their surprise declaring it “new information,” and assured that previously, nothing indicated any cause for concern regarding the products they received from the supplier.
Bruce Taylor, Chairman and CEO of Taylor Farms, defended the plant’s exhaustive water-testing program which produced 48 million servings of salads for numerous restaurants in the Midwest and eastern U.S. in June, the month when the outbreak started. Taylor’s emphasis was that all their tests have come back negative, with no evidence of cyclospora in their product.
Highest Number of Illnesses in Texas
Taylor noted that his farm in Mexico does not supply to Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants in Texas. Interestingly, Texas reports the second highest number of illnesses during this outbreak. According to the CDC, 113 of the illnesses reported were from Texas, while Iowa and Nebraska reported 146 and 81 illnesses respectively.
Despite the findings, U.S. health officials said the broader investigation is still ongoing.
Cyclospora Infection – The Insidious Parasite
Cyclospora infection, isn’t typically life-threatening but can make people severely ill. “Symptoms include crampy abdominal pain, watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating, nausea, fatigue, fever, headache and body aches,” warns Dr. Lewis Marshall Jr., chairman of the outpatient services at a medical center in New York City. Dr. Marshall added that it is “unlikely to be fatal, but certainly can make one’s life miserable.”
The one-celled parasite that causes these infections cannot spread from person to person; the only means of transmission is via contaminated water or foods like fruits and vegetables, according to Dr. Monica Parise, chief of the parasitic diseases branch at the CDC.
Stay Safe by Staying Clean
Experts recommend washing all fruits, vegetables, including pre-packaged salads thoroughly before consumption. Dr. Salvatore Pardo, vice chairman of the emergency department at a medical center in New York emphasizes that my hunch is the public does not do this to ‘prepackaged’ salad, which is normally purchased for convenience and dumped into the bowl since it tends to be free from particles — dirt, sand, critters — one would normally find in locally picked ingredients.”
Further details on cyclospora can be found at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.