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 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. No cases have been reported in Washington state.
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.
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“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 in Lincoln, said the lack of specific brand information threatened to hurt all providers, including those that 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 hadn’t determined whether the cases in 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 María-Belén Moran, spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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.
Health authorities in California, which provides much of the nation’s leafy green produce, said Wednesday the state had no reports of cyclospora cases.
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.
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.