As the number of people sickened in the Cyclospora outbreak linked to Fresh Express salads sold at McDonald’s tops 500, food safety lawyers are pushing for answers to questions weighing on consumers minds: Is Cyclospora, a parasite historically associated with travel to tropical and sub-tropical climates, turning up more frequently in the produce we eat? And can food companies take measures to prevent it?

Ryan Osterholm
Attorney Ryan Osterholm

“The answer to both of those questions is yes,” says Ryan Osterholm, a Cylospora lawyer with the national food safety law firm Pritzker Hageman, which has represented hundreds of people sickened by Cyclospora in recent years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cyclospora outbreaks have been linked to imported produce since the mid-1990s. Between 2000 and 2016, there were 33 outbreaks of cyclosporiasis, about two every year.

CDC chart of Cyclospora outbreaks

On this chart, the CDC puts the total number of people sickened at 1,646. Osterholm says by state health department reporting and in some cases the CDC’s own data that number is low. For example, in 2016, cilantro from Mexico sickened 237 people in Texas, not six. In 2015, a 31-state outbreak sickened 546 people, not 90 people in three states as the chart shows. And in 2013, where the CDC chart shows three Cyclospora outbreaks affecting 207 people in four states, there was a 25-state Cyclospora outbreak that sickened 643 people, according to the agency. Pritzker Hageman represented dozens of clients in that outbreak.

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Cyclospora Outbreaks are on the Rise

Over the last 10 years, Cyclospora outbreaks have increased. And some of them have been large. In 2017, more than a 1,000 people were sickened in a 40-state Cyclospora outbreak. The food source for that outbreak was never discovered. This year, the McDonald’s outbreak, which has been linked to Fresh Express salads served at the fast food chain, has sickened 507 people in 16 states.

McDonald's Fresh Express Salad Cyclospora Outbreak Map

Another outbreak, linked to Del Monte vegetable trays sold at Kwik Trip stores, has sickened 237 people in four states. And an outbreak at a Mexican restaurant in Minnesota sickened 17 people.

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Can Cyclospora Outbreaks be Prevented?

Food poisoning outbreaks can be prevented if food companies and food handlers all along the path from farm to fork take precautions, Osterholm said. After the 2013 outbreak, in which some of the cases were linked to produce grown in Mexico and served at Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants,  the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did an environmental assessment of the growing area and made four recommendations.

The first was that all ingredients of the salad mix be investigated. In this outbreak, carrots were part of the implicated salad mix, but the growing fields were not investigated while they were still active. The second was that the company, Taylor Farms of Mexico, reevaluate its processing to make sure controls are in place to mitigate contamination. The third recommendation was that the company nurse take stool samples from employees who are sick with diarrheal illness to see if there is a risk of contamination. And the fourth recommendation was that better hand-washing faucets be installed in portable toilets to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Free Consultation About Your Cyclospora Case

If you have a Cyclospora infection from a salad you ate at McDonald’s or from food you ate elsehwere and would like a free consultation with Ryan Osterholm and the Cyclospora team at Pritzker Hageman, call 1-888-377-8900 or use this form. The call is free and there is no obligation.

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