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Recent Food Recall Caused by Lesser-Known Parasite
Kansas Ag Connection - 07/30/2020

It may not get the attention that its better-known foodborne cronies E. coli and salmonella get, but a parasite that was recently ruled the cause of a food recall in bagged salad mixes can be equally menacing.

In late June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a recall of bagged salad products made by Fresh Express and containing iceberg lettuce, red cabbage and carrots, due to suspected contamination by the microscopic parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis.

As of July 9, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 509 cases of foodborne illnesses caused by the organism in eight states, including Kansas.

"Fresh produce has been linked to Cyclosporiasis outbreaks in recent years," said Kansas State University food safety specialist Karen Blakeslee. "According to the CDC, imported and domestic foods -- such as salad mixes, fresh basil and cilantro, fresh raspberries and green onions -- have all been linked to outbreaks. Other cases have been linked to U.S. citizens traveling to countries where the parasite is found."

The parasite can be found in foods contaminated by feces, and causes intestinal illness in humans. It is not known to spread from person to person, Blakeslee said.

To avoid all foodborne illness, consumers should routinely pay attention to reports of outbreaks, which are announced in many ways through news outlets, grocery stores, websites and social media. Blakeslee said a reliable online source is a government-backed site, www.recalls.gov.

K-State Research and Extension also maintains a website with information on food recalls and other food safety news.

"If you find you have a food that is recalled, do not eat it, and dispose of it carefully," Blakeslee said. "Do not feed it to others or your pets. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the product."

She said everyday food safety practices also are important to avoid foodborne illness, including:

- Always wash hands before handling any type of food, and especially after using the restroom.

- Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with soap and hot water between preparing raw meat, poultry and seafood products; and preparing fruits and vegetables that will not be cooked.

- Wash all fruit and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating, cutting or cooking. Do not use soap or other cleaners to wash food. Fruit and vegetables that are labeled 'pre-washed' do not need to be washed again at home.

- Scrub firm fruit and vegetables -- such as melons and cucumbers -- with a clean produce brush. Cut away damaged or bruised areas before preparing and eating.

- Refrigerate cut, peeled or cooked fruit and vegetables as soon as possible, or within two hours. Store fruit and vegetables away from raw meat, poultry and seafood.

Blakeslee, who also is coordinator of K-State's Rapid Response Center, publishes the monthly newsletter, You Asked It!, with current information and answers to consumer's questions on food safety issues. Consumers are invited to submit questions for the newsletter online.

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