October 1, 2023

Food Poisoning Flashback: Cyclospora Produce Outbreaks

Produce from Mexico contaminated with Cyclospora has caused illness outbreaks that sickened hundreds of Americans in 2013, 2014 and 2015. In 2013, some of the illnesses were linked to tainted bagged salads, in 2014 and 2015 illnesses were linked to contaminated cilantro.

food poisoning flashback

Cyclospora is a parasite that lives in subtropical climates. The hallmark of an infection, called cyclosporiasis, is profuse, often explosive, diarrhea that can last for 70 days. Other cyclosporiasis symptoms, which can also last 70 days, include abdominal cramps, bloating, gas, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, body aches, low-grade fever, and other flu-like symptoms.

A 31-state cyclospora outbreak that sickened 546 was the second-largest multistate food poisoning outbreak of 2015. Some of the illnesses were linked to fresh cilantro imported from Puebla, Mexico.  Other food sources were not identified.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) broke down the case count for 319 of the 546 sickened after May 1 as follows: Arkansas (3), California (2), Connecticut (5), Florida (13), Georgia (26), Illinois (9), Iowa (1), Kansas (2), Maryland (1), Massachusetts (12), Michigan (2), Missouri (1), Montana (3), Nebraska (1), New Jersey (7), New Mexico (2), New York (excluding NYC) (10), New York City (22), North Carolina (1), Texas (179), Utah (1), Virginia (3), Washington (2), and Wisconsin (11). Case patients, who ranged in age from 15 to 89 years old, reported onset of illness dates ranging from May 1 to August 22, 2015.

A cyclospora outbreak that sickened more than 304 people in 19 states was the largest multistate food poisoning outbreak of 2014. The food source was only identified for cases in Texas.  Similarly, in a 2013 cyclospora outbreak that sickened 643 people in 25 states, a food source was only identified in Iowa, Nebraska and Texas.

Texas reported the most cases both years with 270 cases in 2013 and 164 cases in 2014. And, in both years cilantro imported from Mexico was identified as the source of illnesses in that state.

The other states reporting cases were: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Washington

After cilantro from Puebla Mexico was also identified as the source of the 2014 outbreak, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) visited the implicated growing area, they found human waste and toilet paper in the cilantro fields. The FDA then placed an import alert on cilantro form that area. Although the alert essentially banned cilantro from area from being imported to the U.S., the product still made its way in and was marketed as being from another area, according to a lawsuit filed by produce wholesaler Farmers Friend.

Washing produce can’t remove all of the cyclospora. Cooking is the only way it can be destroyed.


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