Iowa state health officials have identified one more person sickened after eating a salad at McDonald’s, bringing the total foodborne illness victims in that state to 16.
McDonald’s has temporarily halted salad sales in at roughly 3,000 impacted restaurants in 13 states as it looks for a new lettuce blend supplier.
The additional victim comes as state and federal agencies have identified more than 100 victims in Iowa and Illinois diagnosed with cyclosporiasis, an intestinal illness caused by a microscopic parasite. A portion of the Illinois cases have been tied to salads served at McDonald’s restaurants. The 16 victims in Iowa ate McDonald’s salads.
Out of an abundance of caution, McDonald’s said it is “no longer selling salads until we can switch our lettuce blend supply to another provider” in about 3,000 impacted restaurants located primarily in the Midwest. That includes at least one restaurant in the following states: Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota, Kentucky, West Virginia and Missouri.
But pivoting to a new supplier might not solve the problem, according to an official with the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the Iowa agency’s medical director, said the pathogen is coming from lettuce fields and is “hard to get rid of.”
“This is a very sticky parasite,” Pedati told Nation’s Restaurant News in a phone interview Friday.
The pathogen, she said, is contaminating the produce at the field level where it is transmitted most likely by feces. The contamination is not occurring at the distribution center, or at the store level so switching suppliers might not reduce risks if the lettuce blends are coming from the same fields, she added.
“There’s really nothing a distributor or vendor can do to get it of” the parasite once it enters the supply channel, Pedati said.
When asked if its new lettuce supplier is sourcing its product from a different farm than its previous supplier, McDonald’s declined to respond.
In a statement, the company reiterated its commitment “to the highest standards of food safety and quality control.”
“We are closely monitoring this situation and cooperating with state and federal public health authorities as they further investigate.”
The food safety scare at McDonald’s comes as this same parasite has been tied to several other clusters of illnesses including an outbreak tied to produce trays distributed to Midwest retailers.
As of July 12, 227 people who reportedly consumed pre-packaged Del Monte vegetable trays have been sickened, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The trays contained broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and dill dip.
Del Monte has recalled tray products distributed to grocery stores in those regions, including Kwik Trip, Kwik Star, Demond’s, Sentry, Potash, Meehan’s, Country Market, FoodMax Supermarket, and Peapod, the CDC said.
Of those 227, seven have been hospitalized with no deaths, the CDC said.
An FDA spokesman said the agency does not believe the outbreaks at McDonald’s and Del Monte are related.
Contact Nancy Luna at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @FastFoodMaven