Parasite Outbreak in Texas Traced to Mexican Grown Cilantro Tainted with Human Fecal Matter

Mexican Cilantro Field - Cyclospora
Photo: NBC5 Video Screenshot

Mexican grown cilantro, contaminated by human fecal matter, caused over 200 cases of a parasitic illness in Texas. This disturbing news comes in a statement from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a statement on Monday.

Health officials found deplorable conditions in the fields of Puebla, Mexico, where the Mexican grown cilantro is produced, according to the FDA alert. At multiple sites, human feces and toilet paper were strewn about the fields and around facilities that were inadequately maintained. They also found instances where restrooms had “no soap, no toilet paper, no running water, no paper towels.”

The FDA cited one where they found a holding tank used to provide water for employees to wash their hands in the bathroom. It was contaminated with cyclospora, the microscopic organism responsible for cyclosporiasis, the resulting intestinal tract disease, which Breitbart Texas reported on in early July when incidences began to surge statewide.

FDA officials also identified that food-contact surfaces and crates used to transport cilantro or tables where the herb was cut and bundled were visibly dirty and unwashed.

As a result of the investigation, the FDA is detaining Mexican cilantro (cut, chopped or whole) at the border beginning April 1 and continuing through to August 31 each year. They are forbidding Puebla products from entering the United States without inspection and certification. Cilantro from other parts of Mexico will need paperwork to prove it is not from Puebla.

Bloomberg Business reported  that U.S. restaurant companies like Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., and Yum! Brands Inc., owner of Taco Bell, confirmed to them that they will not be affected by the ban as their cilantro does not come from the region.

So far, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) recorded 205 cases of cyclosporiasis this year. The highest concentration of infection is in Travis County with 77 cases. Neighboring Williamson County has 10 cases. The combined Dallas-Fort Worth area has nearly 50 cases, with 17 of them in Dallas County. This is followed by a tie at nine in Tarrant and Collin counties. Denton County follows with eight cases. The remaining cyclosporiasis is spread throughout the state in smaller numbers.

This is the third time the cyclospora bug crossed over the border into Texas from Mexican cilantro fields. In 2014, Texas recorded 133 cases. This was the highest in the nation for that year. In 2013, cilantro and raspberries imported from the Puebla region erupted into 277 cases of cyclosporiasis.

The FDA alert also disclosed a second Puebla grown cilantro cyclosporiasis outbreak that was discovered in Wisconsin.

The cyclospora cayetanensis parasite is indigenous to tropical and subtropical regions. Cyclosporiasis is the severe diarrheal intestinal illness caused by the parasite’s spread through drinking or eating food contaminated with feces. Following an incubation period of approximately a week, symptoms including watery stools and/or explosive diarrhea can last a week to a few months and they can even recur.

The CDC lists other common symptoms as appetite and weight loss, dehydration, stomach cramps and pain, bloating, gas, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, body aches, headache, fever, and other flu-like ailments. Some people, they note, show no symptoms. Direct person-to-person transmission is highly unlikely.

In late June, the DSHS issued a health advisory to encourage physicians to test patients with cyclosporiasis consistent symptoms as cases began to increase. Although not fatal, medical attention is strongly advised.

Foodborne outbreaks of cyclosporiasis in the U.S. have been traced to imported fresh produce. Commercially frozen and canned produce have never been sources.

Despite DSHS warnings to thoroughly wash fresh produce, KXAN-TV reported even that action may not completely wash the cyclospora off of fruits and vegetables. Cooking will kill the parasite.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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