Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

August 1, 2013

Origin of salad-linked outbreak remains a mystery

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nearly 400 people across the country have been sickened by cyclospora, a lengthy intestinal illness usually contracted by eating contaminated food. But if you’re looking to find out exactly where it came from, you may be out of luck.

Federal officials warned Wednesday that it was too early to say whether the outbreak of the rare parasite reported in at least 15 states was over.

Health officials in Nebraska and Iowa say they’ve traced cases there to prepackaged salad. They haven’t revealed the company that packaged the salad or where it was sold, explaining only that most if not all of it wasn’t grown locally.

The lack of information has fueled concern from consumers and food safety advocates who argue that companies should be held accountable when outbreaks happen and customers need the information about where outbreaks came from to make smart food choices.

“If you want the free market to work properly, then you need to let people have the information they need to make informed decisions,” said Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who specializes in class-action food-safety lawsuits.

Mark Hutson, who owns a Save-Mart grocery story in Lincoln, Neb., said he was unaware of customers who had raised concern about the product, which was unusual in situations involving foodborne illnesses. But Hutson said the lack of specific brand information threatened to hurt all providers, including the good actors who did nothing wrong.

“I think there was so little information as to what was causing the problem, that people just weren’t sure what to do,” he said. “Frankly, we would prefer to have the names out there.”

Authorities said they still hadn’t determined whether the cases of cyclospora in the different states are connected.

“It’s too early to say for sure whether it’s over, and thus too early to say there’s no risk of still getting sick,” said Marma-Belin Moran, spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only Iowa and Nebraska officials had directly linked the outbreak in their states to a salad mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce, carrots and red cabbage. But grocery shoppers elsewhere acknowledged it was a factor as they shopped for produce.

“I can’t say I really want to go and buy particularly any lettuce right now,” said Laura Flanagan, 35, who was shopping at a Whole Foods in Dallas with her two young children. “I’m being pretty cautious about it.”

The product was widely distributed in Iowa by wholesalers who could have supplied the bagged salad mix to all types of food establishments, including restaurants and grocery stores, said Iowa Food and Consumer Safety Bureau chief Steven Mandernach.

Mandernach said at least 80 percent of the vegetables were grown and processed outside both Iowa and Nebraska. He said officials haven’t confirmed the origins of 20 percent and may never know because victims can’t always remember what they ate.

Iowa law allows public health officials to withhold the identities of any person or business affected by an outbreak. However, business names can be released to the public if the state epidemiologist or public health director determines that disclosing the information is needed to protect public safety.

Mandernach said there is no immediate threat, so his office is not required to release information about where the product came from. He said state officials believe the affected salad already has spoiled and is no longer in the supply chain.

Nebraska public health officials said they still hadn’t traced the exact origins of the outbreaks.

“I am by no means giving all-clear, green light on the issue,” said Dr. Joseph Acierno, the state’s chief medical officer and director of public health. “We’re encouraging the medical community to stay vigilant.”

Food-safety and consumer advocates say the agencies shouldn’t withhold the information.

“It’s not clear what the policy is, and at the very least they owe it to us to explain why they come down this way,” said Sandra Eskin, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ food safety project. “I think many people wonder if this is all because of possible litigation.”

Marler said withholding the information can create general fears that damage the reputation of good actors in food production. He said consumers should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to shop and grocery stores or eat at restaurants where tainted produce was sold.

Some states also are slow to interview infected people, he said, which reduces the chances that they remember where they ate.

The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that it didn’t have enough information to name a possible source of the outbreak. In the past, the agencies have at times declined to ever name a source of an outbreak, referring to “Restaurant A” or using vague terms.

Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says that the decision to withhold a company’s name may not only hurt consumers but the food industry, as well. When an item is generally implicated but officials give few specifics, like with the bagged salad, people may stop buying the product altogether.

“I think consumers need more information to make good buying decisions,” she said.

Responsibility for disclosing the names of businesses involved general falls to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because their authority crosses state lines, said Doug Farquhar, a program director with the National Conference of State Legislatures. Farquhar said most states have laws that prohibit the disclosure of businesses that are affected by a foodborne illness.

“In some cases, states go ‘rogue’ and release the names without FDA approval, in the name of public safety,” Farquhar said. “But for the most part, states prefer to let the FDA release the names and take the heat.

———

Associated Press writer Uriel Garcia in Dallas contributed to this report.

 

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

1
Text Only
Top News
  • Man said to be homesick for prison gets 3 1/2 years

    An ex-con who spent most of his adult life behind bars on Thursday got what he said he wanted for robbing a suburban Chicago bank. The 74-year-old gets to go back to the place he called home — prison.

    April 18, 2014

  • Greenleaf embarks on ‘a new beginning’

    Greenleaf Center invites health-care professionals and business leaders to a ribbon cutting at its 2209 Pineview Drive location to recognize the newly renovated hospital.

    April 18, 2014

  • Today in History for Friday, April 18, 2014

    Today is Good Friday, April 18, the 108th day of 2014. There are 257 days left in the year.

    April 18, 2014

  • VSU, LHS bands partner for concert

    Valdosta State University Music Department’s Wind Ensemble and Lowndes High School’s Wind Symphony present a joint concert, 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 21, Whitehead Auditorium, VSU Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood.

    April 18, 2014

  • Southeastern Federal, VSU host baseball, movie in the park

    Almost everyone enjoys movies and almost everyone enjoys baseball, so what happens when you combine the two? That is exactly what Southeastern Federal Credit Union will be doing tonight with its Movies in the Park event.

    April 18, 2014

  • Valdosta playwright becomes author

    A Valdosta playwright has turned her play into a new book.

    April 18, 2014

  • Wild Adventures hosts Ostrich Easter Egg Hunt

    Tie on your Easter bonnet and hop over to Wild Adventures Saturday, April 19, for an Easter egg hunt with a distinctly Wild Adventures twist.

    April 18, 2014

  • GMC Valdosta holding Admissions Day

    Georgia Military College Valdosta will be hosting Admissions Day on Tuesday from 8-6 p.m.

    April 18, 2014

  • Color Me Free fun run planned

    South Georgia House of Hope is having a Color Me Free 5k Fun Run/Walk April 26 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., to emphasize Alcohol Awareness Month. All funds raised will benefit South Georgia House of Hope, which is a long-term residential home for women recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and abuse.

    April 18, 2014

  • Another arrest made in kidnapping

    Another arrest was made in the kidnapping of a North Carolina prosecutor’s father, federal investigators said Thursday.
    Quantavious Thompson was taken into custody late Wednesday afternoon, FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said in a statement. Details on his arrest weren’t immediately available.

    April 18, 2014

Top News
Poll

What you think about school and workplace rules about Facebook friends?

There have to be rules.
No need for rules, just use common sense.
If people want to be friends, what is the big deal?
Nobody uses Facebook anymore.
     View Results