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Cyclospora Outbreak – imported vegetables

Cyclospora, according to the CDC, is “an intestinal illness caused by the microscopic parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis. People can become infected with Cyclospora by consuming food or water contaminated with the parasite”. It gets into the food or water supply through fecal matter due to unsanitary practices (think: dirty re-used water, unwashed hands and equipment, port-a-potties in fields that aren’t regularly and properly sanitized). It can give you explosive diarrhea which is never a good time.

Now, I’m not an expert in infectious diseases by any stretch, but I got curious when a bagged salad, cabbage, and carrots recall hit the news a few weeks ago. The USDA reports that it is still investigating since the outbreak was first announced on June 19th. Why do I care? Because foods that are supposed to help keep us healthy shouldn’t make us sick!

So far several different brands have been found that are contaminated: ALDI Little Salad Bar, Giant Eagle, Hy-Vee, Jewel-Osco Signature Farms, ShopRite Wholesome Pantry, and Walmart Marketside, all linked to the same produce facility in Illinois. More than half of the states in the U.S. have been affected. Here in Ohio, Giant Eagle, Aldi, and Walmart make up a huge portion of the produce market – I can’t even imagine how many salads that could mean. Hundreds of people have gotten sick and 33 have needed to be hospitalized so far.

Haven’t heard of Cyclospora before? That’s because it’s generally found in warmer tropical countries that also have more relaxed health codes and hygiene standards like Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Brazil. The only way it really impacts our food system according to the CDC is through imported food. The last notable outbreak in the U.S. that I could find was in 1996, brought here through a shipment of Guatemalan raspberries. If you go to the current FDA’s website, you’ll find a product photo of one of the 2020 contaminated salad bags clearly marked “Product of USA & Mexico Romaine”

Perhaps we could spend a little time thinking about why our food has to travel so far and why we’re importing the same food we can grow here. Why have we allowed the focus to be on making money over the safety and well-being of other human beings?