The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a ban on all cilantro imports from a state in Mexico after detecting traces of a microscopic parasite from samples of the produce.
Officials from the agency believe that the outbreaks of cyclospora observed in recent years in the United States are linked to cilantro grown from farms in Pubela. The disease is known to be caused by the parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis, which can lead infected people to suffer flu-like symptoms and intestinal illness.
The health department of Texas reported that there have been 205 cases of cyclospora infection in the state so far this year. There have also been previous reports of infection made in Wisconsin.
The FDA said that an investigation conducted in several cilantro farms revealed dismal conditions in some facilities such as traces of human fecal matter and toilet paper found in the farms' growing fields and other areas.
The agency added that they also found inadequacies regarding the maintenance and proper supply of hand washing and toilet facilities in the farms they had inspected.
In some instances, FDA inspectors even discovered that the water supply used by farm workers to wash their hands was actually contaminated by the cyclospora parasite.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. William Schaffner of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center explained that tracing cyclospora cases can be a challenge because the parasite is rare and can manifest symptoms similar to other types of diseases.
"It's an infection that is not easy to diagnose and is one that the average physician has very little knowledge of," Schaffner said. "Hospital laboratories will have some difficulty making this diagnosis."
Schaffner added that the spread of cyclospora parasite through cilantro is a cause for concern as the produce is not usually cooked during preparation, which would help kill off the microorganism.
Food safety lawyer Bill Marler in Seattle said that the growing number of cyclospora-related outbreaks in recent years is particularly alarming. He said that the decision to ban cilantro comes late as there have already been a several cases of infection that had occurred.
"The fact is that cyclospora is called an emerging pathogen," Marler said. "It's relatively new bug making people sick in the U.S."
Photo: Jeremy Noble | Flickr