Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A salad-mix packaging facility associated with the Cyclospora outbreak that has so far sickened more than 600 people in 22 US states has been given the green light to return to production following an extensive investigation.
Over more than a week, from August 11-19, the FDA with the cooperation of the Mexican government, conducted a thorough environmental assessment of the processing facility owned and operated by Taylor Farms de Mexico, S de RL de CV as well as five farms identified during an initial Cyclospora outbreak traceback investigation.
Following the initial traceback investigation, which was jointly conducted by the FDA, the CDC, and state health departments in Iowa and Nebraska, it was discovered prepackaged salad mix used at Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants was directly related to the Cyclospora outbreaks in Iowa and Nebraska. That salad mix was found to be produced and distributed by Taylor Farms de Mexico.
Following that news, Taylor Farms de Mexico reported to the FDA on August 12 it had voluntarily ceased production and halted deliveries of its product on August 9. However, the company also noted it would return to production even without FDA approval once it deemed its facilities were safe. Still the agency conducted a thorough environmental assessment of the produce company, which wrapped up last week.
Upon completion of this assessment, FDA officials found conditions and practices observed at these facilities were in accordance with current food safety protocols. As well, no illnesses have cropped up in Iowa or Nebraska since July 2 that could be tied to Taylor Farms. Nor, states the FDA, has any other US state currently dealing with a Cyclospora outbreak been linked to this company.
As a result, the FDA has agreed to the firm’s plan to resume its operations. Taylor Farms de Mexico “has committed to a comprehensive Cyclospora sampling program for leafy green and other products from their farms and processing facility in Mexico,” said the FDA “This will include both sampling of their products and water and continued monitoring of the sanitary conditions of their facilities.”
The company had resumed operations as of August 25.
While the investigation of Taylor Farms is likely over for now, the FDA, CDC and state health departments continue to probe the Cyclospora outbreak that is gripping at least 20 other states in the Union.
As of August 23, the CDC has been notified of 610 cases of cyclosporiasis – the disease associated with the single-celled Cyclospora parasite.
The following states have been affected by this outbreak: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Texas continues to receive the highest amount of cases with the latest official number at 258 infections. Iowa has seen the second-highest number of cases with 156 infections. Nebraska has reported 86 infections and Florida 31. All other states have seen fewer than 20 cases with most of those fewer than 6 cases.
It is still unclear if the cases seen in states besides Iowa and Nebraska are all linked to a similar source, or if they are all part of separate outbreaks. The FDA is continuing its investigation and has not ruled out any possibilities.
According to an Associated Press report, it may continue to be a difficult investigation due to the fact that Cyclospora is not commonly found in the US and there may be many illnesses that have gone unidentified. Cyclospora testing must be done specifically and many doctors don’t bother because of the rarity of the illness. The CDC also said it doesn’t have the tools to distinguish one strain from another, which makes it even harder to determine if the outbreaks are from a unique source or from several.
It may be likely the investigators will not find the source of infection in the latest round of outbreaks. Still, the probe continues.