FDA Investigators found:
- Human feces and toilet paper found in growing fields and around facilities; Inadequately maintained and supplied toilet and hand washing facilities (no soap, no toilet paper, no running water, no paper towels) or a complete lack of toilet and hand washing facilities;
- Food-contact surfaces (such as plastic crates used to transport cilantro or tables where cilantro was cut and bundled) visibly dirty and not washed;
- Water used for purposes such as washing cilantro vulnerable to contamination from sewage/septic systems;
- In addition, at one such firm, water in a holding tank used to provide water to employees to wash their hands at the bathrooms was found to be positive for Cyclospora cayetanensis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state public health officials have identified annually recurring outbreaks (in 2012, 2013, and 2014) of cyclosporiasis in the United States, which have been associated with fresh cilantro from the state of Puebla, Mexico. There is currently (in July 2015) another ongoing outbreak of cyclosporiasis in the United States in which both the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection have identified cilantro from the Mexican state of Puebla as a suspect vehicle with respect to separate illness clusters.
Texas DSHS has received reports of 205 Cyclosporiasis cases from around Texas this year, prompting an investigation into the infections in hopes of determining a common source. People who have a diarrheal illness lasting more than a few days or diarrhea accompanied by a severe loss of appetite or severe fatigue should contact their health care provider.
Past outbreaks have been associated with cilantro from the Puebla area of Mexico. While the investigation into the current outbreak is ongoing, imported cilantro has been identified as a possible source of some infections. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued an import alert detaining cilantro from that area coming into the U.S.
DSHS recommends thoroughly washing fresh produce, but that may not entirely eliminate the risk because Cyclospora can be difficult to wash off. Cooking will kill the parasite.
Cyclospora cayetanensis is a human-specific protozoan parasite that causes a prolonged and severe diarrheal illness known as cyclosporiasis. In order to become infectious, the organism requires a period outside of its host. Illnesses are known to be seasonal and the parasite is not known to be endemic to the United States. Cyclosporiasis occurs in many countries, but it seems to be most common in tropical and subtropical regions. People become infected with C. cayetanensis by ingesting sporulated oocysts, which are the infective form of the parasite. This most commonly occurs when food or water contaminated with feces is consumed. An infected person sheds unsporulated (immature, non-infective) C. cayetanenis oocysts in the feces.
As I said to ABC News:
Bill Marler, a Seattle-based food safety lawyer, said the number of cyclospora outbreaks in recent years is worrying.
“Banning the product is probably a bit past due given the numbers of outbreaks that have occurred, “said Marler. “The fact is that cyclospora is called an emerging pathogen. It’s relatively new bug making people sick in the U.S.”