A multi-state cyclospora outbreak stemming from fresh basil hit a Rochester restaurant last month.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported a total of 132 illnesses reported across 11 states — Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Wisconsin. Four cases of cyclospora required hospitalization, none of which were in Minnesota.
Only four of the 11 states had exposures occur at restaurants. In addition to Minnesota, some restaurants in Florida, New York and Ohio were affected. Among those restaurants was City Market in Rochester, which had 26 of the state’s 35 confirmed cases.
The source of the outbreak seems to be basil exported by Siga logistics de RL de CV, in Morelos, Mexico. The FDA requested a voluntary recall of the basil, and the exporting firm agreed.
Outback Steakhouse in Hermantown had four confirmed cases, and five confirmed cases were from meals catered by Duluth Grill.
The meal dates ranged from mid-to-late June, according to Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health.
Schultz said the department has been in contact with the affected restaurants. "It's not really anything that they could do or did do wrong,” he said. “It was strictly with product that came in."
Based on current information, cyclospora may be resistant to routine chemical disinfection methods, such as those using chlorine, according to the FDA.
There is no ongoing risk, Schultz said, adding that it has been almost a month since the last meal date was reported.
“We take our cleanliness and our professionalism absolutely serious and we keep detailed logs of everything,” City Market owner David Currie said.
Currie said the restaurant first learned of the issue after being contacted by the county health department and then quickly sent over the requested documentation. Unlike some other forms of illnesses caused by food, cyclospora can take one to two weeks to make someone ill.
“Unfortunately, this is a product that came through us that there could have been no amount of washing this product or looking at it or anything that would have prevented what happened,” Currie said.
The basil came to City Market through its supplier, Sysco.
“We switched where we source our fresh basil and that is all we really can do,” Currie said. “We do everything as safely as we can and as soon as we can.”
Cyclospora is a microscopic parasite that only affects humans and occurs when people come into contact with food or water that is contaminated with human feces, according to Dr. Bobbi Pritt, the director of Mayo Clinic Hospital’s parasitology lab.
“It is not like some of the parasites where it's animals out in nature that are spreading it,” she said.
“We should be able to control this because these are humans that have this condition and so if you can keep human feces out of our food and water then you should be able to break the transmission cycle.”
Many people won’t have any symptoms at all, Pritt said, but of the people who do have symptoms, watery diarrhea is the most common symptom and it can go on for one to two weeks. Some people get it for even longer. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, weight loss and very uncomfortable cramping or bloating.
Most people do get better on their own, Pritt said. Those who are immunocompromised could face more serious consequences. There are antibiotics that kills the parasite.