Originally published Aug. 6, 2013, 6 a.m.: The culprit in the cyclospora outbreak that has sickened at least 400 (mostly) Midwesterners has been named, and it goes by the moniker Bagged Salad. Bagged Salad de Mexico by way of Olive Garden and Red Lobster, to be precise. So the Food and Drug Administration says.
The blend of romaine and iceberg with little bits of carrots and red cabbage (we know you can picture the dreadful stuff) was produced by the Mexican subsidiary of American food-service company Taylor Farms of Salinas.
Taylor Farms. Taylor Farms. That sounds familiar. Oh yeah, that Taylor Farms -- the one implicated in the bagged spinach recall last year and the bagged salad recall the year before (both for Salmonella bacteria).
"We care deeply about the health and welfare of our customers and are absolutely committed to ensuring every salad we produce is great-tasting, healthy, wholesome and, most importantly, safe. ... The health and safety of our customers is our No. 1 priority," Taylor Farms says on its website.
At least 400 cases of cyclospora infection had been reported in 16 states as of last Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thanks to the salad mix tossed together by Taylor Farms de Mexico. The FDA traced illness clusters to the salad blend served at Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants. The agency will be conducting an "environmental assessment" of Taylor Farms' processing facility in Mexico to try to determine the cause of the contamination.
Taylor Farms is an American producer of prepackaged salads and cut vegetables. It has subsidiaries in Mexico, where it grows produce in the winter months.
None of Taylor Farms' 11 other facilities has been connected to these cases, the company said in a news release on its website. The Mexican facility has "an exceptional food safety record," the company says. FDA officials say they inspected the Taylor Farms de Mexico facility in 2011 and "found no notable issues."
None of the bagged salad is still on the market, Taylor Farms said, adding, "Bagged salad is safe to eat." (Well, sometimes.)
Whether or not the cyclospora cases in the other 14 states that have reported the illness also are linked to bagged salad from Taylor Farms de Mexico is unknown. The FDA and the CDC say they are continuing to investigate the outbreak.
As a result of the current investigation, the FDA says it is increasing its surveillance efforts on all green leafy products exported to the United States from Mexico.
Cyclospora is a rare (think Third World), nasty one-celled parasite that causes symptoms whose descriptors include the word "explosive."
And all you were looking for was a tasteless salad.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook, and follow Samantha Bonar at @samanthabonar.