October 28, 2013 — Fresh cilantro imported from Puebla, Mexico has been blamed for an outbreak of food poisoning that sickened at least 643 people in 25 states between June and August 2013. Victims were infected with the Cyclospora parasite, which causes persistent, watery diarrhea for months unless treated.
Investigators in Iowa and Nebraska linked illnesses in their states to imported salad from Mexico that was sold in restaurants like Olive Garden and Red Lobster. However, cases in Texas did not share the same link.
The outbreak sickened at least 278 people in Texas. Investigators identified more than 70 clusters of illnesses, most involving only 1-3 people. However, a larger cluster involving 30 people was linked to the same Mexican restaurant in Fort Bend County. Of those people, 22 had laboratory-confirmed cases of Cyclospora infection, while 8 people were probably infected based on reported symptoms. Two other Mexican restaurants in Central Texas were linked to four illnesses. Another cluster of 4 illnesses was linked to a grocery store in North Texas.
The only common link among the illnesses was fresh cilantro. Cooked cilantro in some salsas was not associated with any illnesses, which makes sense because heat kills the Cyclospora parasite.
According to the October 23 update from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
“During interviews with ill persons in Texas, about 50% reported having eaten fresh cilantro 2–14 days before they became ill. This proportion was significantly higher than that reported among ill persons in Iowa and Nebraska (reported by about 10%), and significantly higher than results from a previously conducted survey of healthy persons in New Mexico where 27% reported eating fresh cilantro in the 7 days before they were interviewed.”
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