A Monday press release from the FDA orders that imports of cilantro from Mexico must be halted for several months after inspectors found fields strewn with human feces and toilet paper. No cilantro from Pueblo, Mexico, will be allowed into the country without FDA inspection and approval.
Conditions are so terrible for Mexican farm workers, they actually defecate on the very crops they’re harvesting.
Federal para la Proteccion contra Riesgos Sanitarios (COFEPRIS), investigated farms and packing houses in Mexico, including in the state of Puebla, to ascertain the conditions and practices that may have resulted in the contamination of cilantro. From 2013 to 2015, FDA, SENASICA, and COFEPRIS inspected 11 farms and packing houses that produce cilantro in the state of Puebla, 5 of them linked to the US C. cayetanensis illnesses, and observed objectionable conditions at 8 of them, including all five of the firms linked through traceback to the U.S. illnesses. Conditions observed at multiple such firms in the state of Puebla included human feces and toilet paper found in growing fields and around facilities; inadequately maintained and supplied toilet and hand washing facilities (no soap, no toilet paper, no running water, no paper towels) or a complete lack of toilet and hand washing facilities; food-contact surfaces (such as plastic crates used to transport cilantro or tables where cilantro was cut and bundled) visibly dirty and not washed; and water used for purposes such as washing cilantro vulnerable to contamination from sewage/septic systems.
In addition, at one such firm, water in a holding tank used to provide water to employees to wash their hands at the bathrooms was found to be positive for C. cayetanensis. Based on those joint investigations, FDA considers that the most likely routes of contamination of fresh cilantro are contact with the parasite shed from the intestinal tract of humans affecting the growing fields, harvesting, processing or packing activities or contamination with the parasite through contaminated irrigation water, contaminated crop protectant sprays, or contaminated wash waters.
Bloomberg News notes that thanks to the human feces in cilantro from Mexico, 304 Americans in 2014 became ill with cyclosporiasis and suffered from severe bowel problems. Currently, the Texas Department of State Health Services is investigating another 205 cases that took place this year.
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