Consumer News

FDA Suspects Fresh Basil From Mexico Behind Foodborne Parasite Outbreak

The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has strongly advised restaurants, retailers, as well as importers and suppliers to not allow the distribution of fresh basil leaves in U.S. territory imported from Mexico. The stiff warning comes after an investigation revealed that an outbreak of Cyclospora, a foodborne parasite, has affected 132 citizens across 11 states. 

Some patients were exposed to the fresh basil leaves infected by this parasite in restaurants at Florida, Minnesota, New York and Ohio. So far, there have been four hospitalizations but fortunately there is no record of death according to the latest update on the FDA’s website.

In order to control the spread of Cyclospora infection further, the firm exporting the fresh basil leaves from Mexico to the U.S., Siga Logistics de RL de CV, has obliged to make a voluntary recall on the FDA’s request. The agency has increased screening of basil imports and has become more vigilant to detect more sources of the outbreak through other vegetables as well. 

FDA’s Recommendations

The agency has advised consumers not to eat uncooked salads that may have contaminated fresh basil from Mexico. Eating salad should be an option only if they can confirm that the vegetable was not exported by Siga Logistics de RL de CV.  At this time, when the outbreak is at its peak, taking an extra precaution is necessary. People should avoid basil till they guarantee it's not from Mexico. 

A food safety tip on the FDA’s website reads:  “Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops, and utensils that may have contacted contaminated foods; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.” 

Gemelli with Chicken, Garlic, Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil, and Asiago Gemelli with Chicken, Garlic, Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil, and Asiago

Rise in Outbreak Over Years

Cases of cyclosporiasis, an intestinal illness caused by a parasite called Cyclospora cayetanensis

, had been reported since the mid 1990s. The sources are always various imported fresh produce such as raspberries, basil, lettuce, and snow peas, among a few other vegetables. 

While American agencies are alert to contaminated imports, there is also a possibility of domestically acquiring Cyclospora, especially during spring and summer. Commonalities and clusters of cases vary from season to season. This year, as of July 23, 2019, exactly 580 cases of cyclosporiasis have been confirmed to  CDC by 30 states. 

The CDC keeps a yearly database of such cases that are confirmed by laboratories. In one year, there had been a doubling of the number of people reported to had been affected by Cyclosporiasis. By October 1, 2018, there were 2,299 people who had confirmed that they had Cyclosporiasis from domestic sources. The previous year the number of cases were half as 1,065 people had become ill due to the disease. 

What is Cyclospora?

Cyclospora is transmitted to water and food through infected stools of human beings. However, it is not a communicable disease since the parasite takes a long time, sometimes weeks to become infectious. Once the person becomes infected, the symtoms show up over a period of a week at least. It infects the bowels that leads to liquid diarrhea and frequent to explosive bowel movements. If not treated, it is most likely to relapse.