Public Health Officials Not Sharing Source of Cyclospora Outbreak

The outbreak of Cyclospora, the intestinal bug that's made nearly 400 people sick nationwide, may finally be coming to an end. But the investigation into the cause is just beginning.

Health officials in Iowa and Nebraska say pre-packaged salad mixes are to blame for the outbreaks in their states, but according to Siouxland District Health, the State of Iowa doesn't have to release any details on where the salad was served or sold or where the contamination originated from.

"One of the problems with the Cyclospora outbreak is that there are about 15 states in the United States that don't require Cyclospora to be counted, and so there are some states that may well have cases but we have no idea because we're flying blind," said Bill Marler, a Food Safety Lawyer in Seattle, Washington.

Officials in Iowa and Nebraska are pointing the finger at pre-washed bagged salad - a product that's normally ready to eat.

Health officials say there's no need to rinse your pre-wash packaged veggies because once you get them out of the bag you never know what's hanging out in your sink or on your hands for that matter.

"Maybe you washed or prepared some uncooked chicken or washed something that had been touched by uncooked chicken and now your sink is contaminated and if that touches the produce that's not going to be cooked you could be introducing other kinds of bacteria," said Michelle Clausen Rosendahl, a representative for the Siouxland District Health Department.

But Marler says an even bigger problem is the secrecy of public health officials, who are refusing to reveal the brand of salad mix and any restaurants that served it.

"I've been doing this for 20 years, and the information that the Health Department is not disclosing right now is similar to the information they don't disclose in other outbreaks, the reality is it eventually does come out and in my view it undercuts the credibility of the public health department," he said.

Health officials say they don't want to jump the gun.

"You think of all the different things that those people would have eaten before they got exposed, it could be very difficult what the commonalities are. And it's happened before not just in Iowa but across the country where whoever was doing the investigating thought that they knew what the correct thing was and it ended up not being correct," said Clausen Rosendahl.

She said wrong information can also cause a lot of damage to a business's credibility but Marler says he just wants to know who the manufacturer is.

"The public, I think, has the right to know to make decisions about what they serve to their families. They should know who has a good process or a bad process that allows something like this to get through to sicken people because that's how the free market works," said Marler.

Marler adds he already has 12 clients who got sick from cyclospora and he's waiting on tests to confirm a restaurant that served the contaminated salad.

And in light of this cyclospora outbreak Judith from Sioux City wanted to know: "Do those fruit and veggie washes you see in the store work? Are they any better than water in stopping cyclospora or other infectious agents"

It's a good question and the answer is, not really.

We did some research and found that several different academic studies have looked into the effectiveness of produce washes. They all found the same thing - water is just as good at cleaning produce.

But health officials say there are added benefits to the washes.

"If you've got produce that has a rough skin or something on it than you can scrub it with a produce brush, that's a good idea to even help that cleansing. They're really not shown to do a better job at cleaning and especially at not making something safer so removing any type of bacteria or parasite that might be on something," said Clausen Rosendahl. "The one thing that I've seen that they've shown to be effective at would be removing wax from some produce that you purchase if it has a wax covering on it."

Simply put - thoroughly wash your fruits and veggies under running water to make sure they are free of bacteria.