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Foodborne Illness Hits Midwest, Texas

Foodborne Illness Hits Midwest, Texas

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Cyclosporiasis outbreak is cropping up in Iowa, Nebraska, and now Texas too

Data suggests that a recent Texas outbreak of the rare foodborne illness cyclosporiasis could be linked to similar cases in the Midwest. The Texas Department of State Health Services has reported 37 cases of cyclospora infection in the past week alone. Prior to this outbreak there have been only 35 cases throughout the state between the years 2001 and 2010.

In the Midwest, 124 patients in Iowa and Nebraska have been diagnosed with cyclosporiasis. In these states the number of cases is still on the rise, doubling and even tripling in the case of Iowa.

The cyclospora parasite can infect water or food and is often ingested when fresh fruits and vegetables are not properly cleaned before eating.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, symptoms of cyclosporiasis are generally mild and can last anywhere from two days to two weeks. For some, however, especially those with impaired immune systems, symptoms can be severe.

Investigators are not yet sure which food product could be causing these cases. For the time being, officials are urging caution, and careful washing of produce before consumption.

House of Prime Rib admits its meat may have gotten people sick, amid deluge of complaints

Diners at House of Prime Rib in San Francisco on October 30, 2020.

Kelsey McClellan / Special to The Chronicle 2020

The House of Prime Rib has an issue with its flagship meat: The iconic San Francisco restaurant admitted Tuesday that some of its prime rib may be connected to reports of foodborne illness.

After a San Francisco Department of Public Health investigation last month and new reports swirling on social media this week, the more than 70-year-old restaurant said on Instagram that it &ldquorecently had an isolated issue with some of our prime rib which was immediately discovered and addressed.&rdquo

Owner Joe Betz told The Chronicle that his team has been trying to determine what might be causing diners to fall ill, though he said none of the employees who eat the prime rib every Saturday have gotten sick. The restaurant has been fielding calls from upset customers and refunding meals while more people left negative reviews on the House of Prime Rib&rsquos Yelp page with detailed accounts of symptoms following in-person and takeout meals.

&ldquoWe tried to isolate this and tried to isolate that,&rdquo Betz said. &ldquoWe really don&rsquot have an answer but I think we're getting closer to the problem, and maybe it&rsquos the product. We go through every possibility if there's a problem.&rdquo

Word started spreading in April that there might be an issue at the House of Prime Rib, which has been booked solid since reopening for indoor dining. The health department received six complaints of foodborne illness and inspected the Van Ness Avenue business on April 7. At the time, it found two &ldquolower risk violations&rdquo that have since been fixed: food debris buildup on a meat grinder, which was immediately cleaned and sanitized, and the menu&rsquos absence of an advisory warning that certain raw or undercooked foods such as meat or eggs may increase risks of foodborne illness. The inspection report confirmed that no staffers had gotten sick.

But Monday, the health department received four new complaints from a total of 12 people who alleged that they became ill and developed symptoms after eating the restaurant&rsquos food. The unit counts multiple reports from people who live in the same home as one complaint.

&ldquoDPH is responding accordingly and will take further additional steps if epidemiological information suggests a link between the practices of the restaurant in question and the recent alleged food borne illness complaints,&rdquo the department said in a statement.

Betz said that a new inspection from the health department late Tuesday did not find any violations Department of Public Health public information officer Veronica Vien confirmed this.

&ldquoWe couldn&rsquot find any direct causal link between the alleged foodborne illnesses and the observations that we made today,&rdquo Vien said Tuesday evening.

2016 Salmonella outbreak revealed this week by CDC, FDA

Federal officials this week released the first reports on a Salmonella outbreak in 2016 that sickened more than 30 people across nine states and was traced to fresh hot peppers.

The outbreak hit people from Texas to Minnesota, causing the hospitalization of at least eight out of 32 confirmed victims, according to a report in the “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is the first report of this outbreak,” a CDC spokeswoman told Food Safety News on Thursday.

“Investigators could not determine what specific type of hot pepper was causing illness, or which farm was producing the peppers. Due to the short shelf-life of fresh peppers, the contaminated peppers were most likely no longer being sold or served when investigators suspected peppers as the outbreak source.”

The Food and Drug Administration had similar reasons for not alerting the public during the 2016 outbreak, which stretched from May 6 through July 9.

“The FDA worked with CDC on this outbreak, however the traceback investigation was unable to uncover a common source for the peppers at the time and therefore we did not have any actionable information to share with consumers,” a spokesman from the Food and Drug Administration told Food Safety News Thursday afternoon.

Coincidentally, the FDA issued an Import Alert on June 21, 2016, for fresh Anaheim peppers from produce consolidator Elias Gerardo Gonzalez Valdez in Nuevo León, Mexico. The alert allowed for Anaheim peppers from Valdez to be held at the U.S. border without inspection. But the alert was not related to the outbreak.

“The import alert was issued because of a positive sample collected during our micro-surveillance sampling of hot peppers,” the FDA spokesman said Thursday.

“We had begun this sampling assignment to fill some data gaps in our knowledge about hot peppers and to learn more about potential rates of contamination in these products. We received the results for this pepper right about the same time that we were becoming aware of the outbreak.”

Peppers among the usual suspects
Potential pathogen problems associated with fresh peppers spurred the FDA to initiate a special 18-month testing assignment program for the commodity in late 2015. The agency cited outbreaks, deaths and recalls related to fresh hot peppers when it announced it would be conducting the “micro-surveillance.”

Another contributing factor to the FDA decision to conduct the special testing of hot peppers is the fact that there are numerous opportunities for the commodity to be contaminated because peppers frequently come into contact with contaminated water, soil or equipment during growing, harvesting, and/or post-harvest activities.

“In 2008, fresh hot peppers were associated with an outbreak that caused 1,500 illnesses, 308 hospitalizations and two deaths. Additionally, since 2010, Salmonella spp. has been responsible for eight product recalls involving fresh hot peppers, which can be a ‘stealth component’ in multi-ingredient dishes,” according to FDA’s information page on the pepper testing program.

“As a result of these incidents, the FDA is seeking information on the prevalence of Salmonella spp., E. coli, and Shiga toxinproducing E. coli in fresh hot peppers.”

FDA’s plans called for the collection and testing of 1,600 hot pepper samples — 320 domestic, and 1,280 of international origin. As of April 1, the agency had collected 310 domestic samples and 1,255 import samples. Of those, FDA tested 309 of the domestic samples for Salmonella, with only one returning positive results. That’s about 0.3 percent with positive results.

Of the import samples collected, FDA tested 1,211 for Salmonella and found 44 of them — 3.6 percent — positive for the pathogen.

“As the testing is still underway, no conclusions can be drawn at this time,” according to the most recent update, which FDA posted on April 1.

Connecting the dots
Neither the FDA nor CDC could definitively connect the 2016 outbreak victims to a specific type of hot pepper or a specific grower or packer. However, a sample of Anaheim pepper from the Nuevo León produce consolidator that FDA tested in April 2016 turned out to be a genetic match for Salmonella Anatum isolated from victims.

The big picture didn’t come into focus, though, until months later.

In June 2016, the CDC’s PulseNet database identified a cluster of 16 people from four states who had Salmonella Anatum infections with an indistinguishable pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern, indicating a common source.

“This rare PFGE pattern had been seen only 24 times previously in the PulseNet database, compared with common PFGE patterns for this serotype which have been seen in the database hundreds of times,” according to the CDC report published this week.

Standard outbreak interview and investigation techniques did not yield many clues, so the CDC and state investigators in Minnesota started having open-ended interviews with outbreak victims. Among 18 patients interviewed, 14 reported eating or possibly eating fresh hot peppers, or reported eating an item containing fresh hot peppers before becoming sick.

“Nine patients reported eating peppers at restaurants, two reported eating peppers both at restaurants and at home, and three did not specify a location,” the CDC reported.

Investigators started looking at restaurants where victims reported consuming peppers. They collected recipes for reported menu items, including salsa, and reviewed invoices to identify common ingredients.

The FDA conducted traceback on peppers served at three restaurants in Minnesota and Texas. Two of those restaurants received peppers from the Nuevo León produce consolidator named in the FDA import alert. The third restaurant received peppers from multiple firms in Mexico, including Valdez in Nuevo León.

“FDA collected seven additional samples of hot peppers, including serrano, habanero, jalapeño, and bell peppers, from (the consolidator) as part of the outbreak investigation none yielded Salmonella,” according to the CDC report.

“On June 21, 2016, before the epidemiologic investigation began, FDA placed (the consolidator) on import alert for Anaheim peppers because they could be contaminated with Salmonella. …There were only two outbreak-associated illnesses reported after the import alert was issued.”

An estimated 1 million people in the U.S. are sickened with Salmonella infections every year, according to the CDC. Of those, about 400 people die.

There were four fresh pepper recalls because of Salmonella during the outbreak period in the U.S. and Canada:

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News,click here.)

Transmission of Listeria

Listeria may be present in the intestine of many mammals, birds, fish, and crustaceans. It&aposs passed out of an animal&aposs body in its stool. The bacteria can then be transmitted to us in plant foods contaminated by infected stool, soil, or water. Listeria can survive in a variety of environments, which is one reason why it&aposs so troublesome.

Another problem is that Listeria in an animal&aposs body may contaminate food obtained from the animal. The bacteria can be transmitted in meats, fish, and dairy products. Cooking these foods properly or pasteurizing dairy products will kill the Listeria bacteria. However, refrigerating the products won&apost kill the bacteria. In fact, the bacterial culture can actually grow inside the refrigerator. Food contaminated by Listeria looks, smells, and tastes normal, which makes it impossible for a consumer to detect the problem.

Cheese made from pasteurized milk is fine, but soft raw milk cheeses should be avoided to reduce the risk of listeriosis.

Home Kitchen Pop-Ups: How Do You Know They're Actually Safe?

Whether on Instagram or at the local farmers' markets, many foodpreneur businesses are operating without proper licensing. But what does that mean for the consumer?

During the pandemic, foodpreneurs have been popping up by the dozen, seemingly daily. Log onto Instagram, type in a product – say, cookies ­– and you&aposll come up with hundreds of home-baked options. In fact, such virtual vendors quite literally sell everything from soup to nuts. They get paid virtually, too, by Venmo or PayPal or Zelle. Only the product is concrete enough, delivered or picked up in person.

Aside from what they sell, which could range from potstickers to arepas, these foodpreneurs generally have a lot in common. They&aposre very good at packaging themselves on social media in fact, some were, or still are, influencers who figured out how to pivot before or during these difficult times. Others have been selling homemade goods, either as a main way of making income or as a sideline, for years. They went online to sell when farmers&apos markets closed down or also went virtual. A good number are professional chefs, cooks, and other kitchen staff who lost their jobs thanks to coronavirus complications and need to make a living.

And, of course, many of them are likely operating illegally.

I say this not as a blanket authority but as someone who has both bought food from makers in an effort to be supportive, and as someone who also sold prepared foods at a lot of markets and festivals. But using my own state as an example, I have yet to see on any of these items conform to, say, just one cottage industry labeling law. According to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), "A Cottage Food Operation is a person who produces or packages cottage food products at his or her residence and sells such products in accordance with Section 500.80."

In any state, a cottage food business is one that doesn&apost need a license to operate, doesn&apost require a state or federal inspector, and doesn&apost make over a certain amount of money per year. (In Florida, that&aposs $50,000).

Sounds simple, doesn&apost it? It&aposs not. The list of things a cottage industry must do isn&apost long, but often isn&apost followed, beginning with labeling. In my own perusing, I have yet to see any product marked with this required statement: "Made in a cottage food operation that is not subject to Florida&aposs food safety regulations."

I also don&apost usually see a list of ingredients allergen information according to federal guidelines the volume or net volume of the product or even the name and address of the company.

Sometimes, I don&apost see a label at all.

If a homegrown food business can&apost follow directions about how to label a product – which should be the simplest process – how can you trust them to follow basic hygiene, keep pets out of a home kitchen, or increase sanitation in our COVID-19 climate? How can you know that they&aposre storing and using ingredients, or cooking and cooling at proper temperatures properly? How can you know that eating their products won&apost make you ill?

The short answer is that you really can&apost. I wrote that the list of items ] cottage foodpreneurs have to do is short that&aposs true. The amount of things that they can&apost do – cook with meat, use industrial appliances, cook off-site, sell retail – is much, much longer. If they cross any of those lines, they&aposre no longer under the cottage umbrella. Now they&aposre a business that requires governmental oversight.

One of the problems with the cottage food industry, in general, is that guidelines not only vary from state to state, they differ by county as well. When Michael&aposs Mandel Bread wanted to begin selling a softer cookie-like version of the traditional Jewish cookie, Kimmie Pertnoy says that she and her father were told that they were based in Miami-Dade County. "So we actually needed to be licensed. All other counties in Florida can be cottage food-based except Miami-Dade," she relates. "So this meant that instead of just being able to wake up and bake out of our home, we had to first find a commercial kitchen [and] also one that met our COVID guidelines. Believe me, you would be shocked how many were so lax in Miami about not wearing masks."

Not only that, but she notes that the family had to take a required Food Safety Manager Course, take a test to become certified, and get approved.

As a result of all these precautions, of course, Michael&aposs Mandel Bread isn&apost a cottage business. It&aposs regulated by government entities and, as a result, it can ship by government and private vendors – which it does, to more than 25 states already. It can also be admitted to outdoor markets.

In most states, a certification or license isn&apost required for cottage food businesses to sell at outdoor markets, but organizers can require one to admit a business. After all, it&aposs their insurance on the line should foodborne illness be traced back to samples or products sold there. Jen Knox, who produces salt, sugar, and herb blends at Saltlickers, started as just such an industry, making her items first as gifts, then selling them at a holiday sale.

Now she has a commercial kitchen in her Iowa basement that gets inspected regularly, and her popular mixtures are in retail markets and stores throughout the state as well as on the website. She also still sells at farmers&apos markets, which are on pause for the moment, and recalls harrowing tales of rule-breaking vendors trying to get away with sampling and selling unregulated, unmarked, and disallowed goods. For instance, cottage industries are not allowed to sell salsas, preserved products, pickles, and other high-acid goods that involve roasted vegetables, even if they&aposre baked, such as focaccia. But that doesn&apost mean people don&apost do it all the time, and get away with it, even in Iowa, which she calls "an officious state."

In addition to that and Instagram, she says she&aposs also "amazed at the mail-order food that passes. You don&apost need a license to make pretty pictures."

Ni&aposKesia Pannell, who debuted Peach State Drinks this past year in Atlanta, Georgia, notes that the primary reason most pop-up kitchens operate under the radar is that they just don&apost know better. "Most are not doing it to get over on the system. There really isn&apost a guidebook to go by. Unless you have a mentor in this business, not a lot of people want to lend a helping hand."

She says it&aposs even harder for minority start-ups, who often don&apost have role models or, if they do, don&apost have responsive ones. In her case, she says, "We did reach out and ask for guidance. In some cases, they were busy or left us hanging. It&aposs like it&aposs some sort of competition."

This viewpoint is significant, and true in high-immigrant populations like Miami as well, where the goal is not so much as to make a company as it is to make a life. And the customers who buy are looking for a familiar taste of home – they may not be concerned about illness or illegalities.

Aside from the issues of non-existent mentors and homesickness, the state departments of agriculture are not exactly straightforward. Even when foodpreneurs intend to abide by guidelines, or they&aposve established themselves as cottage industries and want to scale up for retail and require a commercial license, it can seem impossible to find the right document with updated guidelines.

Pannell says that sometimes it&aposs not even the so-called experts who know. "In one instance, something was going on with our label. Somebody at the printer flagged it because they&aposd seen it before."

In addition, all three foodpreneurs I interviewed also said that when they did speak to authorities in the departments of agriculture, they repeatedly received conflicting advice. You&aposre a cottage industry. You&aposre not a cottage industry. You don&apost take a class. You do. "It would be beneficial to have each state of agriculture to have a welcome packet after you register your business. You search high and low on the website. From March 2019 until this past November, I called the Georgia Department of Agriculture 10-12 times for guidance," Pannell says. "Every time it was something different. The last time I called, I got the right guy who stayed on the phone."

Pertnoy had a very similar experience. She says, "We wanted to do a local market and they required licensing. When I looked online to see about our product, it did fall under the cottage food law – but the market wouldn&apost allow [it] without a license. So I contacted Florida Department of Agriculture, and to be honest their answer wasn&apost consistent. So I called about four times, and the consensus was that in Miami-Dade County the cottage food law does not apply."

To make it more confusing, Knox says, is that guidelines are re-issued frequently, especially now with COVID. "I&aposm fortunate to live next to one of the biggest food science programs at Iowa State," she says. "When I registered the business, the Iowa State Extension office contacted me and said this is what you have to do. But they leave the old documents up on the website, and those are the ones that have the most hits, so that when you Google search for an answer, the oldest comes up first." And despite the help that she initially received from the Iowa State Extension office, she says those who are on the front lines there don&apost send the memos to her inspector, who is the one who signs on the dotted lines.

It&aposs understandably frustrating. But in the end, as Pannell, Pertnoy, and Knox all know, it&aposs better to find out for sure exactly where you stand and have everything be above board. Because if you make someone sick, especially now during a pandemic, "You can lose your house," Knox says.

It all seems like an awfully big risk to take for an extra few thousand a year, which is what most of these pop-up kitchens, who aren&apost in it for the long run, will make in the end.

So how can you know if a pop-up home kitchen is safe? At the very least, look at the package. If there&aposs no label, that&aposs a large red flag. And if it&aposs labeled with a pretty design and a name but not with ingredients, allergens, or a way to get in touch with the person who made it, you can be sure that someone hasn&apost done the cottage food law homework. Or they have, but if something goes wrong, they don&apost want to be found.

Bottom line: Be aware as a consumer buy from makers you know and trust, and when trying products from new foodpreneurs, be mindful of the risks. This is by no means to say that individuals in your community aren&apost producing incredibly delicious items for purchase, just that some items are produced with less regulation than you might assume.

This Is Why You Should Never Rinse Raw Chicken

Julia Child may have been a proponent of washing raw chicken, and while she arguably goes down in history as the chef at the forefront of introducing America to masterful French cooking in the household, food safety was not on her radar. And it's been proven that basically, you should never rinse raw chicken.

To Child's credit, it really hadn't been a focal concern for many people during her time, and no one ever told her she should never rinse raw chicken. In fact, the 1960s, which was when her show The French Chef debuted on PBS, was the same decade that laws on food regulation and safety were just beginning to emerge. Plus, plenty of people even today still think it's best to rinse raw chicken before they get to cooking.

According to a new study published by the Department of Agriculture, 300 participants were recruited to prepare chicken and salads. Some participants were shown food safety videos and were told not to wash chicken before preparing it, but for those participants who didn't get this information, 61 percent rinsed the raw chicken and almost 30 percent of those who also made salads where they prepped the chicken ended up with salads that were contaminated with bacteria from the chicken. Yikes.

Nowadays, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and food safety researchers from universities across the U.S. alike repeatedly issue warnings to never rinse raw chicken in the sink prior to cooking. Why? Meredith Carothers, the technical information specialist at the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, says that it's because it increases the risk of cross-contamination.

"By rinsing chicken meat, there is a potential to spread foodborne illness bacteria, like Salmonella or Campylobacter, to other surfaces or utensils," she explains. "If these surfaces or utensils are not cleaned or sanitized, it could spread to ready-to-eat foods and cause foodborne illness."

Plus, water won't kill that bacteria, and what's worse is that once the water hits the meat, the bacteria splatters all over your sink, hands, clothes, and kitchen. In fact, the illness-causing bacteria can fly up to three feet away from where the chicken is rinsed, according to a post from the USDA. The scariest part: Because it's not possible to see where the bacteria is lurking, it's almost impossible to clean it up, increasing your odds of foodborne illness.

As if there weren't enough germs in the kitchen as-is, washing raw chicken only spreads pathogens that could be lurking on the meat to other kitchen tools and countertops.

If you've been washing your chicken, it's really time to stop—and make sure you disinfect and sanitize your kitchen.

"For extra protection, you may sanitize with a solution of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water," says Carothers.

Washing your hands immediately after touching raw meat is another preventive step you can take to avoid cross-contamination.

"Hand washing after handling raw meat or poultry or its packaging is a necessity because anything you touch afterward could become contaminated," she says.

RELATED: These are the easy, at-home recipes that help you lose weight.

Pathogens that reside on raw chicken will die off once they're exposed to high temperatures. For chicken, the rule of thumb is to make sure the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which you can ensure with the help of a food thermometer. However, those pathogens don't die off as easily if they're lingering in your room-temperature kitchen sink, on your countertop, or on nearby kitchen tools.

Now, stop giving raw chicken a bath, and instead, just plop it on the sizzling skillet or on the sheet pan, no rinsing required. After cooking, be sure to let the chicken rest for 15 minutes so the juices can redistribute, and we know you'll be left with an equally delicious meal—minus a side of germs around your kitchen.

6. Baja Fresh

The aptly named "Baja Fresh", on the other hand, places great focus on fresh ingredients. Opened in 1990, the California-based chain was started around the same time as competitors Chipotle and Qdoba — but is pretty far ahead in terms of clean eating.

Chipotle made a pledge to serve naturally raised meat back in 2008, and has since made certain everyone understand its commitment to "real ingredients" through its Food With Integrity campaign. But long before Chipotle launched the campaign, Baja Fresh was already serving grass-fed beef, handmade salsas, and farm-fresh ingredients. Whole foods are folded into a menu of diverse burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and salads. The chain even offers a decent-sized kids menu comprised of a quesadilla, taquitos, platter, or burrito.

Unlike the vast majority of fast-food eateries, Baja Fresh makes everything fresh, in-store from scratch. The chain prides itself in having not a single freezer or can opener in any of its restaurants.

Consumer Reports Rated the Healthiest Grocery Stores: They May Surprise You

The consumer site recently surveyed members to see which U.S. food retailers have the best and widest selection of healthy foods.

Most of us know it&aposs a whole lot easier to eat healthy when our fridge is stocked full of fresh food instead of half-eaten takeout boxes. More than half of grocery shoppers believe their favorite food retailer is "on their side" when it comes to helping them eat healthy, according to Consumer Reports-so the publication recently set out to discover which ones are the best at delivering the goods.

CR surveyed their members on 96 rated grocers for how well they go above and beyond in providing a variety of high-quality, decently-priced and locally sourced food options. Only six of these supermarkets, warehouse clubs and supercenters achieved top marks for their selection of healthy foods, and they&aposre not national chains like Trader Joe&aposs or Whole Foods. Instead, regional grocery store chains took the top spots. Here they are, listed below:

• Central Market in Texas
• Wegmans in the Mid-Atlantic Region
• Heinen&aposs in Ohio and the Chicago area
• New Seasons Market in Oregon, Washington, and Northern California
• Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in the Midwest, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania
• Natural Grocers in 19 states west of the Mississippi River

The first four retailers listed received superlative ratings for their selection of healthy foods, produce quality, produce variety and selection of locally sourced foods. Wegmans was a stand-out, with 16 different labels to help consumers identify a product&aposs health benefits or if it adheres to certain dietary restrictions. Wegmans also offers nutritional info on all store-made food items on their website-a perk not offered by many grocers.

Forty-three percent of those surveyed bought organic foods in the last month, and 25 percent valued good quality produce over organic produce and other food products. No grocer received the highest score for organics, but Trader Joe&aposs, Costco, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, Natural Grocers, Aldi, Woodman&aposs and Grocery Outlet were honorable mentions here.

CR also noted 88 percent of those surveyed believe it is a grocery store&aposs responsibility to notify consumers of any foodborne illness outbreaks, but only 32 percent felt their grocery store did an adequate job.

McDonald’s Stops Selling Salads at 3,000 Locations Due to Possible Cyclospora Parasite Contamination

Update: Finally, we have some answers! As SELF wrote yesterday, romaine lettuce in Fresh Express salads and wraps sold at stores like Trader Joe's and Walgreens has been recalled for possible cyclospora contamination. And the McDonald's salads contained the same recalled Fresh Express lettuce mixes, according to an update from the FDA.

To figure this out, the FDA tested an unused package of Fresh Express salad mix that had been distributed to McDonald's and found that it did, in fact, contain cyclospora. McDonald's also sold Fresh Express carrots in the salad mix that the FDA says tested positive for cyclospora as well. However, the FDA says there's still no evidence to suggest the outbreak is connected to the cyclospora outbreak affecting Del Monte Fresh vegetable trays.

McDonald's has already stopped selling the salads in the affected locations, and the Fresh Express lettuce has been recalled. If you think you may have symptoms of cyclospora infection (which usually take about a week to develop), it's important that you check in with your doctor to make sure you get proper care.

Update (July 27, 2018): It's not over yet: The FDA released an updated count of the number of illnesses related to McDonald's salads, and over 100 more people have been added. As of July 26, there are now 286 recorded cases of cyclosporaisis in 15 states linked to the outbreak, 11 of which have required hospitalization, the FDA says.

Update (July 20, 2018): The warnings over potentially tainted McDonald's salads continue to grow. According to an update from the FDA, there are now 163 reports of illnesses in 10 states related to the salads, which officials believe may be contaminated with cyclospora cayetanensis, a single-celled parasite. Of those cases, three required hospitalization.

Luckily, the fast food chain already stopped selling the salads in about 3,000 locations until they're able to switch to a different supplier and is working with the FDA to figure out the exact source of the outbreak.

If ingested, the parasite can cause symptoms including diarrhea, fatigue, abdominal cramping that usually appear about a week later. Check in with your doctor if you think you may have symptoms related to cyclospora infection.

Original report (July 16, 2018):

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are investigating an outbreak of cyclosporiasis, an infection caused by the microscopic cyclospora cayetanensis parasite that may be linked to McDonald's salads. The company has voluntarily stopped selling salads at "approximately 3,000 of our U.S. restaurants primarily located in the Midwest," the fast food chain said in a statement last week.

According to the FDA, 61 people have become sick in connection with the outbreak in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. "Out of an abundance of caution," McDonald's says it has stopped selling the salads at locations in those states as well as Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Montana, North Dakota, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

The FDA is working with McDonald's to identify which ingredients in their salads may be the culprit. Although there is some overlap in the states affected, the FDA says it doesn't currently have evidence to suggest these cases are associated with the cyclosporiasis outbreak linked to Del Monte vegetable trays reported earlier this month.

The symptoms of cyclosporiasis are similar to other foodborne illnesses and, according to the CDC, may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Cramping and bloating
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

Treatment usually involves home remedies (e.g. staying hydrated) and the use of antibiotics. Without treatment, your symptoms may last from a few days to over a month. Even with treatment, you may experience a relapse, meaning the diarrhea and vomiting may go away only to come back a few more times. And, the CDC says, many people don't get any symptoms at all.

But if you think you may have cyclosporiasis, the FDA says you should contact your doctor for proper diagnosis and care.

In a bellwether case, restaurant chains in Midwest US are taking their insurer to court, claiming that business interruption insurance should cover their pandemic losses

A federal district court judge has ruled that three groups of restaurants operating in four US states should be able to move forward with legal action, which claims that business interruption insurance should cover their pandemic losses.

Restaurants being run by Valley Lodge in Illinois, Rising Dough in Illinois, and Big Onion Tavern Group in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Tennessee all took action against Wisconsin-based insurer Society Insurance.

The cases were initially filed separately before being combined into a multi-district bellwether case.

The insurance company tried to dismiss the cases – but the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois turned this down, meaning that the restaurants will be able to take the issue to court.

"The case serves as an accountability mechanism," Shannon McNulty of Clifford Law Offices, who is co-lead counsel in the case, told Insider.

The restaurants alleged that under their insurance policy with Society Insurance, they had coverage that should have been triggered last March when the pandemic started.

Society Insurance, in response, said that this pandemic coverage isn't included in the language of the policy.

Society Insurance had told the restaurants in an email in March 2020 that "a quarantine of any size . would likely not trigger business income or extra expense coverages under our policies." It also said "a widespread governmental imposed shutdown due to COVID-19 would likely not trigger the additional coverage of civil authority."

The insurance company added that COVID-19 would be unlikely to trigger contamination coverage because it isn't a foodborne illness, and that exposure that their food products had to COVID-19 would not count as a spoilage-covered cause of loss.

In a 31-page ruling viewed by Insider, the court found that the restaurants' insurance policy "does not contain a specific exclusion of coverage for losses due to a virus or pandemic." The restaurants said that is a standard exclusion in the insurance industry.

"The fundamental questions at stake in this litigation are how properly to classify the interruption that has happened here, and whether this particular interruption is covered under the policy," Edmond Chang, the judge leading the ruling, wrote.

The court said that "exclusions are narrowly or strictly construed against the insurer if their effect is uncertain."

"The decision is highly significant for businesses, particularly here in the Midwest, who have suffered financial losses due to the pandemic and paid insurance premiums to protect against those losses," McNulty said.

Society Insurance told Insider: "The court correctly found no coverage under the civil authority, contamination, and sue and labor provisions of Society's policy. But Society is disappointed that the court allowed the claims for business-interruption coverage to survive early motions to dismiss and for summary judgment."

"This is an early, preliminary ruling, and does not resolve the merits," it said. "Society will continue to vigorously defend its interests in the litigation."

The court classed the multi-district case as a "bellwether" case, but it's part of a much bigger wave of coronavirus-related litigation covering everything from individual businesses to industries, lawmakers, and even entire governments.

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