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Parasites are most likely riding into southern Michigan on the fresh produce imports
By Dan Flynn on July 22, 2019
Some of their food might be exposing their customers to foodborne illness, say restauranters Joel and Heidi Gesiakowski. They’ve been letting customers of their Taste restaurant in Michigan’s South Haven know it might be making people sick.
But in this instance, it’s doubtful the foodborne illnesses occurring are the restaurant’s fault. Multiple cases of cyclosporiasis are occurring across southern Michigan, and state and local health officials are scrambling to get ahead of the outbreak.
Cystoisosporiasis (formerly known as isosporiasis) is an intestinal disease. Cystoisosporiasis is most common in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. The parasite can be spread by ingesting contaminated food or water.
Health officials suspect exposure to food products at the Taste restaurant, but they say it has nothing to do poor food handling or preparation by the Gesiakowskis.
The parasites are getting on fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs before the product arrives at restaurants, and even before shipment to the United States.
In a statement posted on the Taste website, the Gesiakowskis said:
“Taste restaurant recently learning that produce we procured from one of our ingredient suppliers was contaminated with cyclospora, a parasite that sometimes found on fresh fruits, vegetables or herbs shipped to the U.S. from developing countries.”
They said it was the first time in six years that they’ve experienced “a situation like this, and we are deeply sorry.” And they warned customers that “exposure to this parasite” may require treatment of antibiotics. It can result in cyclosporiasis, a gastrointestinal illness.
Anyone who dined at Taste in South Haven from June 30 to July 5, 2019, should seek medical attention if they are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms.
Taste discarded the contaminated produce. The restaurant is working with local Van Buren County Health District and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to resolve the problem.
The Michigan Departement of Health and Human Services has seen 14 cyclosporiasis patients since late June. The state is not solely focused on the Taste restaurant at 402 Phoenix Street because the ongoing investigation may identify other businesses.
Cyclospora are the microscopic parasites that often are associated with fresh produce import andcause Cyclosporiasis. Symptoms of the illness usually begin one or two weeks after exposure. They include watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, weight loss, bloating, nausea and fatigue. Infections are not usually life-threatening, but can persist without medical care.
While it works to get ahead of the current outbreak, Michigan is reminding its health care professionals to immediate report suspected cases involving cyclosporine.
“Cyclospora contamination often occurs prior to the food arriving at a food distribution center and restaurants, ” says Tim Slawinski, Michigan’s Food and Dairy Division director. “This type of contamination is not easily removed by standard produce rinsing.”
While imported produce is the most likely suspect in the Michigan outbreak, last year was the first time the Cyclospora parasite was found in domestically-grown cilantro.