FDA and CDC are investigating a multistate outbreak of Cyclospora infections allegedly stemming from mixed salad bags made at the Fresh Express production facility in Streamwood, Ill.
ALDI, Hy-Vee, ShopRite, Jewel-Osco, and Walmart have recalled their store-brand bagged salads specifically labeled as “garden salads” and containing iceberg lettuce, red cabbage, and carrots.
Gary Weber, Sr., director for food safety and contamination prevention from the global intelligence firm WorldAware, notes that these outbreaks occur every year and it’s not likely linked to COVID-19 or any eased safety requirements during this time. “Historically, Cyclospora outbreaks occur between December and July, peaking in May, June, and July,” he tells Food Quality & Safety. “Investigators were able to identify bagged salad blends as the suspect food vehicle for a cluster of cyclosporiasis cases using interviews with ill patients; [the outbreak impacted] at least 206 people in eight Midwestern states.”
With concerns that other products made at the Streamwood facility could be compromised, Fresh Express has recalled products containing either iceberg lettuce, red cabbage, or carrots. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have issued a voluntary recall of both branded and private label salad products that were produced at the Streamwood facility and contain those ingredients,” Fresh Express said in a prepared statement. “The recalled products are clearly marked with the letter “Z” at the beginning of the product code, which is located on the upper right-hand corner of the front of the package.”
States impacted include Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. A nation-wide recall has also been made in Canada.
According to data from the CDC, there were 39 reported outbreaks of Cyclospora in the U.S. between 2000 and 2017. The agency also investigated two Cyclospora outbreaks in 2018, one in 2019, as well as this one in 2020. Of those 43 total outbreaks, only three were linked to bagged salad mixes. The other outbreaks were traced to fresh fruit, herbs, vegetables, or individual leafy green products like cabbage.
Weber says that food becomes contaminated when mature oocysts are present on the surface of food. “This can happen when an infected person uses a produce field to relieve themselves instead of using an approved sanitary facility, such as a portable restroom facility,” he adds. “The mature oocyst from the person’s feces may then contaminate the produce during weather events, irrigation, harvest operations, transportation, and/or washing. Contamination of food is not linked to inadequate handwashing alone after using a sanitary facility.”
Weber notes compliance with the FDA Produce Safety Rule (21 CFR §112) should be enough to prevent contamination of produce with Cyclospora. Some of the key elements of the rule involve employee health and hygiene, and of importance are those elements requiring employees to use approved bathroom/sanitary facilities.
FDA recommends that consumers should not eat, and restaurants and retailers should not sell or serve, any of the recalled salad ingredients. The agency is working with retailers to ensure the potentially adulterated products are effectively removed from the market place.