(NBC NEWS) -- Taylor Farms of Mexico, a division of a California-based produce
supplier whose greens go to national restaurants, is responsible for
shipping parasite-tainted salad mix that has sickened consumers in
Nebraska and Iowa, federal health officials said Friday.
Drug Administration officials did not say whether the same greens are
tied to a cyclospora outbreak or outbreaks that have sickened at least
400 people in 16 U.S. states.
"The FDA traceback investigation
found that illness clusters at four restaurants were traced to a common
supplier, Taylor Farms de Mexico, S. de R.L. de C.V.," the FDA said in a
FDA's investigation did not implicate salad mix
packages sold in grocery stores, officials said. Taylor Farms has been
cooperating with the agency, they added.
The grower is part of
Taylor Farms, a Salinas, Calif.-based firm that supplies lettuce and cut
vegetables to national restaurant chains and grocery stores. Taylor
Farms has 11 processing plants in the U.S. and one in San Miguel,
Mexico, according to the company website.
FDA officials, in
conjunction with company leaders, will conduct an environmental
assessment of the processing facility in Mexico to determine the
probable cause of the outbreak. State officials had said the salad mix
included romaine and iceberg lettuce, along with carrots and red
cabbage. A 2011 inspection found no "notable issues," the FDA said.
Taylor Farms has a history of recalling potentially contaminated leafy greens, including a February 2013 recall of baby spinach over
fears it was tainted with Enterohemorrhagic E. coli, or EHEC, a
particularly virulent bacterium that can cause severe infection and
illness. The firm recalled bagged hearts of romaine in 2012 for listeria risk and bagged salad in 2011 over worries about salmonella contamination.
Company officials did not return calls from NBC News.
safety experts have criticized the investigation of the cyclospora
outbreak, which began with two cases in Iowa on June 28, according to
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the illnesses
were reported from mid-June through early July.
Osterholm, Minnesota's former state epidemiologist who now heads the
Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of
Minnesota, said the search for the source of the rare parasite took too
long and wasn't as thorough or targeted as it should have been.
"I think it's really a mess," Osterholm told NBC News. "To me it's a situation where we need a major review."
said state investigators, including those in Iowa and Nebraska, which
first tagged premixed salad as the source of the outbreak this week,
didn't conduct case-control studies that would have quickly isolated the
But Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the Iowa state epidemiologist,
has defended her state's response, saying that cyclospora is a
difficult bug to detect and track because of its long incubation period
and special testing requirements.
States that have reported
illnesses include Iowa, Texas, Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia,
Illinois, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Connecticut, Minnesota,
New Jersey, New York, and Ohio.
Cyclospora is a parasite excreted
in human stool. Illnesses have been associated with contaminated water
or food. It causes gastrointestinal symptoms including prolonged
diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, vomiting and other flu-like
Cyclospora infections are rare in the U.S., but past
outbreaks have been associated with contaminated fresh produce including
fruit and herbs. Raspberries imported from Guatemala were responsible
for a 1996 outbreak that sickened 1,465 people in the U.S. and Canada
and also for a 1997 outbreak that made more than 1,000 people ill, CDC
JoNel Aleccia is a senior health reporter at NBC News. Reach her on Twitter at @JoNel_Aleccia or send her an email.
JoNel Aleccia, NBC News