A nationwide outbreak of cyclospora infection, or cyclosporiasis, is affecting at least 132 people in 11 states. Food safety officials say that fresh basil from Mexico is the source of the outbreak. Mainly, consumers became ill from eating the contaminated herb in restaurants. The latest rash of cyclospora illnesses in this massive outbreak took place in Minnesota, where 35 people became ill after eating in three different restaurants.
The Minnesota Health Department investigated the outbreak and determined that the infections stemmed from meals eaten in mid-to-late June, 2019. Symptoms did not appear until July. Thorough laboratory testing takes time, so the connection between the Minnesota outbreak and the larger nationwide outbreak could only be confirmed last week.
Is This the End of the Cyclospora Outbreak?
More than 130 people are infected with cyclospora. 4 people have been hospitalized, and the disease has appeared in 11 states. After a summer of illness, experts are hopeful the national outbreak is over.
This latest outbreak comes about 30 days after the last known infected meal date. That means that if there were more cyclospora illnesses on the horizon, victims should have already shown symptoms. Symptoms generally appear around a week after consuming food or water that contains cyclospora. But, sometimes symptoms take up to two weeks to appear. Because of this delay, it is hard for disease investigators to pinpoint every instance in the outbreak. Some victims who become ill may not even realize that it is cyclospora that has made them sick.
Restaurants Linked to Contaminated Basil
The restaurants in Minnesota that are linked to the basil in the outbreak include:
- City Market in Rochester – 26 cases
- Outback Steakhouse in Hermantown – 4 cases
- Duluth Grill in Duluth – 5 cases
Produce infected with cyclospora will seem perfectly fine. The parasite does not make the produce look spoiled or dirty, and it is very hard to wash from leafy greens like basil. The tiny parasite can hide in microscopic crevices on the food. Restaurant owners can be very diligent about food safety and yet be unfortunate enough to receive a shipment contaminated with a foodborne illness.
Cyclospora doesn’t appear in the United States very frequently. It is more commonly found in developing countries. When it comes to the U.S., it normally does so in an imported food item. In this case, the basil originates from the food supplier Siga Logistics de RL de CV, located in Morelos, Mexico.
How to Avoid Cyclosporiasis
It’s not always easy to know where your food comes from, especially if you are ordering it in a restaurant. For that reason, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that consumers avoid any raw basil products unless you can be certain the herb did not come from Siga Logistics. Basil grown in the U.S. or elsewhere does not appear to be dangerous. However, unless you can confirm the supplier, the agency says the risk of illness is serious.
Anyone who experiences the symptoms of parasitic food poisoning should contact their healthcare provider and also report their illness to their State Health Department, especially if you have eaten fresh basil in the last month.
Cyclospora is a Growing Problem in the US
Laboratory tests confirm cyclospora have infected more than 580 people this year. Last year was also concerning, with one of the highest to-date numbers of the illness ever reported in America- over 200. Most of the cases throughout the years have come from people eating in restaurants.
Part of the problem is the increasing globalization of the food supply chain. Food products can cycle through five or six parties before finally ending up on a plate. With each pair of hands along the way, there is a greater opportunity for spreading disease. The restaurants most likely to make people sick are those who avoid shipments from areas known to be at risk for cyclospora and other foodborne germs.
What is Cyclospora?
Cyclospora is a microscopic parasite that causes the illness cyclosporiasis. People get sick from this parasite by consuming food or water that was contaminated with feces. Eating in restaurants and traveling to developing countries where the disease is endemic increases the risk of becoming ill.
To spread, the parasite must incubate in the body for 1-2 weeks before the infected person will pass it in a bowel movement. This is why person-to-person contamination is rare, and cyclospora is more often considered to be a foodborne illness. Symptoms include:
- Watery diarrhea, which can be frequent and explosive
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Stomach cramps/pain
- Increased gas
Some victims may also experience vomiting, body aches, headache, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. Victims commonly feel very tired. Without treatment, cyclosporiasis can drag on for a month or longer. It is also common for the symptoms to improve and then relapse one or more times. It is also possible to be re-infected as family members pass the illness back and forth.
Treatment involves two or more antibiotics at once, as well as plenty of rest and fluids. Like any type of food poisoning, take your symptoms seriously and get medical attention if you suspect complications.
How to Avoid Cyclospora Infection
Here are some tips for how to avoid cyclospora infection:
- The first step to avoid cyclospora infection is to avoid any food or water that may have come into contact with feces. Imported fruits and vegetables have a higher chance of infection than other foods.
- Wash your hands, all surfaces, and utensils after handling or preparing produce.
- Clean all produce under running water before cutting, eating, or preparing them.
Even the most conscientious consumer can unwittingly purchase food that has contaminants on it. Unfortunately, this leaves consumers at risk for developing serious illness.
Food suppliers have a responsibility to consumers to offer food that is free from contamination and parasites. When they fail in that responsibility, they can and should be accountable for the illnesses that follow.
If you have questions or concerns about the cyclospora outbreak, contact Bad Food Recall. Call 1-877-534-5750 or contact us online to learn more about your rights as a consumer.