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Bagged salad suspected in food illness outbreak

With outbreaks of food contamination, it can be difficult to determine the source an illness. A recent outbreak of cyclospora has affected 397 people in 16 states. Iowa and Nebraska authorities have reported that they have linked the illness to bagged salad mix, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is still "working to determine" if the bagged salad is the cause.

With defective products, like contaminated prepackaged, bagged salad, investigators need to be able to trace the source. While they can identify the people who have become sick by confirming they are infected by cyclospora, it becomes a more difficult task to trace the item that caused their sickness, especially when it is an item that is a highly perishable product, like bagged salad.

The salad, which consists of various types of lettuce leaves and other vegetables, has a very short shelf life. The last person tested in Iowa became sick on June 28. Most of the cases of illness developed in mid-June. The bagged salad is "long gone," so investigators have no easy way of confirming that the lettuce was contaminated.

Cyclospora is an intestinal illness that causes severe diarrhea and other symptoms like fatigue, muscle aches and stomach cramps, and vomiting. It occurs when feces contaminates food or water. It typically is seen on fresh fruit and vegetables, and is relatively rare in the U.S., with the last major outbreak occurring in 2005.

With wide scale distribution of industrial food, large numbers of people can be infected with these types of diseases in a very short time. Many of the people sickened in this outbreak ate at a national chain supplied by a single source, but this incident is still proving difficult for investigators to confirm.

Source: USAToday.com, "Some food safety experts worry salad not outbreak culprit," Elizabeth Weise, August 1, 2013

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