Imported fresh cilantro from the state of Puebla, Mexico has been linked to outbreaks of cyclosporiasis in the United States, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has issued a seasonal ban on the product in an effort to prevent further illness.
Cyclospora outbreaks were reported earlier this year in the states of Texas and Wisconsin, with both state health offices launching investigations into their respective cases. The FDA also began investigating the matters, in an effort to pinpoint the source.
But it seems the FDA found a pattern in the number and timing of cyclospora illnesses in the United States over the past several years, and identified one of the potential sources of the parasitic infection as a cluster of cilantro growers in the state of Puebla, Mexico.
According to an import alert issued by the FDA this week, 11 farms in Puebla were investigated by both the FDA and Mexican authorities as possible sources for the cyclospora contamination. Officials found “objectionable conditions” at eight of the 11 farms, and five of the farms were linked to cyclospora outbreaks in the U.S.
And it appears that cyclospora illness in the U.S. From consumption of contaminated cilantro, specifically from fresh cilantro from Puebla, Mexico, has been going on for some time. The investigation cited in the import alert, confirms the link between the Puebla, Mexico cilantro farms to 2013 and 2014 cyclospora outbreaks in the United States, and the FDA states that it likely extends further back to a 2012 outbreak and possibly this year’s cyclosporiasis cases as well.
“FDA believes it is extremely unlikely that these outbreaks of cyclosporiasis are due to isolated contamination events because of their recurring nature, both in the timing with which they occur and the repeated association of illness with cilantro from the state of Puebla. No single supplier, packing date, shipping date, or lot code can explain all the illnesses.”
And almost every step of the growing, harvesting, processing and packing of the fresh cilantro from the farms is cited as a potential cause for the contamination.
“FDA believes the source of C. Cayetanensis contamination is likely attributable to a broader source of contamination. Sources of contamination of growing areas, irrigation of fields with water contaminated with sewage, cleaning or cooling produce with contaminated water, and/or poor hygenic practices of workers that harvest and process the produce, and lack of adequate cleaning and sanitizing of equipment that comes in contact with the produce.”
Feces and toilet paper were observed in the growing fields by the investigators. Some farms had no bathroom facilities at all for workers, and those that did had no soap for handwashing, no toilet paper or paper towels. Investigators also found a holding tank at one of the facilities, with water used for workers to wash their hands, to be contaminated with the cyclospora parasite.
Any imported fresh cilantro from Puebla, Mexico by order of the FDA, will be detained from April 1 to August 31 each year, in an effort to minimize the potential for contaminated fresh cilantro to enter the American food supply. Only cilantro from farms listed on the FDA “Green List” will be allowed into the U.S.