McDonald's salad parasite at center of FDA-CDC probe

| by S.A. Whitehead
McDonald's salad parasite at center of FDA-CDC probe

Cyclospora -- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

McDonald's salad sales ban at 3,000 Midwest locations in 14 states continues after the FDA reported that the parasite — which it says likely cannot be washed away — has sickened at least 61 people in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Health departments reported that the cases occurred in those who had previously eaten McDonald's salads. 

Most of the information released today and last week to the media has come from the federal food safety oversight agency. It reports that those sickened had tests showing the presence of the fecal-borne parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis. 

McDonald's stopped salad sales in 14 states and 3,000 locations voluntarily. That includes outlets of the brand in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota, Kentucky, West Virginia and Missouri. McDonald's late this morning said in an email to QSRweb that its only comments on the situation are two paragraphs on its website newsroom. That information reiterates the FDA communications, but adds that  the brand has "removed existing lettuce blend from identified restaurants and distribution centers." No other details were provided concerning actions going forward to QSRweb.   

The FDA, however, has released ongoing information about its efforts relative to the outbreak. 

"We understand how important it is to quickly identify the cause of this foodborne outbreak to help reduce additional illness and we're working closely with our colleagues at CDC and state partners to get more answers," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. 

"There's still a lot to learn about this outbreak, and we appreciate that McDonald's has removed salads from the menu in impacted restaurants while we work to determine whether they are in fact linked to the outbreak. . ... It's early in the investigation, but we are taking steps now to help ensure consumers know about the potentially contaminated product so that they can better protect themselves or seek treatment, especially if they have signs or symptoms of a Cyclospora infection. This is especially important as Cyclospora is not commonly tested for in a health care setting, so consumers who may think they have been exposed should raise their concerns with their health care professional."

As part of this emerging investigation, the FDA said it is actively working with McDonald's to identify the common ingredients in the salads identified by those who became sick and to trace back those ingredients through the supply chain.

Cyclospora is a parasite that can cause severe intestinal illness, but can be treated. Although it's unknown exactly how food and water become infected with Cyclospora, people should be aware that rinsing or washing food is not likely to remove it.

The FDA and CDC are working with state health authorities but said no one had died of the infections, although two individuals were hospitalized. The 14 states' locations that have ceased sales of the salads were all identified by McDonald's as being on the distribution list for the potentially contaminated, the FDA said. Now the organizations are working  to trace the salad ingredients through the massive brand's supply chain. 

Recently a Cyclospora outbreak occurred with those eating from Del Monte vegetable trays, but McDonald's said there appears to be no connection between the two at this time. And, while Cyclospora infection symptoms can be dramatic, some people infected don't show any signs, the FDA said. 

If not treated, the illness may last from a few days to a month or longer. Symptoms may seem to go away and then return one or more times, and can cause fatigue. 

Topics: Burger/Steak/BBQ, Business Strategy and Profitability, Food Safety, Health & Nutrition

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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