Mexican Farms with ‘Objectionable’ Hygiene Conditions Linked to Rash of Outbreaks of Cyclosporiasis in U.S. Going Back to 2012
A joint investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration and Mexican authorities found “objectionable” hygiene conditions in eight of 11 cilantro farms inspected in Puebla, Mexico’s fourth-biggest state, 130km (80 miles) south-east of the capital.
Five of the eight Puebla farms have been linked to recurrent outbreaks of the serious gastric disease cyclosporiasis in the US since 2012. The herb is thought to be at least partially responsible for a current outbreak which has so far sickened 200 people in Texas.
The disease, which is caused by a parasite that lives in human feces, can lead to severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, weight loss, nauseas, vomiting, fever, extreme tiredness and other flulike symptoms. It can last from a few days to more than a month, and even after the symptoms disappear, some people will suffer recurrent relapses. In rare cases, people can suffer long-term muscle weakness and tiredness.
The parasite is spread by people ingesting contaminated food or water, but is not transmitted person to person.
The FDA and Mexican authorities inspected farms and packing houses across Mexico that produce cilantro – also known as coriander.
In Puebla they found that some farms had no toilet or handwashing facilities for workers, while others had bathrooms but no running water, soap or paper towels. They also found visibly dirty surfaces where the herb was cut, bundled and stored, including the crates used for transportation. The water used to wash coriander in some farms may have been contaminated by sewage.
At one firm, the storage tank which supplied workers with water for handwashing tested positive for the cyclospora parasite that causes the illness.
The ban will affect certain shipments of fresh coriander from Puebla from April to August, corresponding to the timing of the recent outbreaks.
The summer ban will continue in future years unless a company can prove to health authorities that its product is safe.
The FDA said it is tightening documentation requirements after it found firms producing coriander in Puebla often do business under multiple names and addresses, and some falsely claimed their suppliers are located outside of the state.
Those who have purchased cilantro from Mexico are advised to thoroughly wash the herb. Cooking it will kill the parasite.