Iowa and Nebraska announced that their analysis showed the cyclospora outbreak was linked to a salad mix, which they believe is no longer in the food chain.
An US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) traceback investigation confirmed that the salad mix identified was supplied to restaurants in those states by Taylor Farms de Mexico, S. de R.L. de C.V., a processor of foodservice salads.
It is not yet clear whether the cases reported from other states are part of the same outbreak and the investigation of increased cases of cyclosporiasis in these other states is continuing.
As of 1 August the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had been notified of 400 cases from 17 health departments: Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, New York City, Georgia, Illinois, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio.
Most of the illness onset dates have ranged from mid-June through early July and at least 22 people have been hospitalized in five states, said the agency. Restaurants in Iowa and Nebraska include Olive Garden and Red Lobster, both are owned by Darden Restaurants.
The most recent inspection, in 2011 of the processing facility of Taylor Farms de Mexico, S. de R.L. de C.V. conducted by FDA found no notable issues.
A statement on the firm’s website said they have invited the FDA to visit the Taylor Farms de Mexico facility to do a review of their food safety systems and environmental assessment.
“We care deeply about the health and welfare of our customers and are absolutely committed to ensuring every salad we product is great tasting, healthy, wholesome and most importantly, safe.
“This is why Taylor Farms de Mexico assesses and tests all water sources, raw product fields, every lot, every day for any risk to our valued customers’ products.
“In this past month of June, Taylor Farms de Mexico produced and distributed about 48 million servings of salads to thousands of restaurants in the Midwest and eastern United States.”
Mexican food regulatory authorities, the Federal Commission for Protection against Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS) and the National Agro-Alimentary Health, Safety and Quality Service (SENASICA), are also involved in the investigation.
Employee hygiene crucial
Birko, who manufactures concentrated chemical formulations used in plant cleaning and sanitation, recommends that produce plants and processors review their cleaning and sanitation procedures.
It is important for processors to review employee hygiene practices and ensure that employees handling product are using good hand washing and sanitizing techniques frequently, and especially after using the restroom, the firm said.
“The exact ways that the Cyclospora parasite contaminates food and water are not fully understood,” said Dr Elis Owens, Birko’s senior microbiologist / chemist.
“But it still makes sense to follow good agricultural practices and good manufacturing practices for fresh fruit and vegetables, to help limit the spread of Cyclospora and other pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria.”