An outbreak of cyclosporiasis caused by contaminated McDonald’s salads has sickened 507 customers since May.
The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that the multi-state outbreak has affected people in 15 states, though the infected salads were apparently only sold in 11 states.
At least 24 people have had to be hospitalized. There have been no reported fatalities.
The latest numbers may be higher, according to the CDC. Cyclospora takes up to six weeks to mature and cause symptoms, so anyone infected after the second week of July may not have developed symptoms yet.
Cyclospora is mainly transmitted through infected feces in food or water. It is unlikely for cyclospora to pass directly from one person to another, according to the CDC.
Symptoms include watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, cramping, bloating, intestinal gas, nausea, and fatigue, according to the CDC. Some patients may start vomiting or develop low-grade fevers, but these are less common.
McDonald’s Salads the Source of the Illness
The Illinois Department of Health reported on July 12 that “The initial investigation indicates a link to consumption of McDonald’s salads produced for McDonald’s restaurants.”
On the same day, McDonald’s Corporation posted this statement in Nation’s Restaurant News: “Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to voluntarily stop selling salads at impacted restaurants until we can switch to another lettuce-blend supplier.
“We are in the process of removing existing salad blend from identified restaurants and distribution centers—which includes approximately 3,000 of our U.S. restaurants primarily located in the Midwest.”
Unfortunately, these measures have not appeared to be sufficient.
Business Insider reported that on July 27, McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook told investors on a conference call, “All those restaurants have been fully replenished with a new supply and we continue to trade fully,” meaning salads were back on the menu.
While investors may have been relieved, McDonald’s customers continued to fall ill.
FDA Finds Probable Source
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered that bags of Fresh Express vegetable mix containing carrots and romaine lettuce were contaminated with cyclospora on July 26.
This salad mix was likely the source of at least some of the contaminated McDonald’s products. Earlier lots from the same source could have been involved at the beginning of the outbreak, but it is too late to be certain.
Fresh Express, located in Streamwood, IL, sold some the contaminated product to Caito Foods LLC of Indianapolis, which used the vegetable mix in prepackaged salads and wraps that it shipped to various retailers.
The contaminated salad mix bags were dated for expiration on July 19. The salads and wraps had expiration dates ranging from July 18–23.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a public health alert about the contaminated products, and published a complete list online.
It is likely that all the contaminated salads have been discarded as they went past their expiration dates.