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Experts seek a way to keep cyclospora out of produce


Washing food is no guarantee

July 23, 1997
Web posted at: 10:25 p.m. EDT (0225 GMT)

From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- First it was fresh raspberries from Guatemala. Then, mesclun lettuce, country of origin unknown.

Now, fresh basil, source also a mystery.

The one thing all these contaminated incidents have in common is cyclospora, an organism virtually unheard of a few years ago.

vxtreme CNN's Eugenia Halsey reports.

"Cyclospora is one of the many so-called emerging pathogens that, unfortunately, we don't yet know a lot about," says Dr. Barbara Herwaldt of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, 1,465 people were treated for cyclospora, and already this year the number is 1,580. No deaths have yet been attributed to the organism.

Health experts are meeting in Washington to try to learn more about cyclospora and how it is getting into the nation's produce.

It takes about a week to get sick after eating food contaminated with cyclospora. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue and weight loss. The illness can linger for weeks, but it can be treated with antibiotics.

No one seems to know how the organism finds its way into food.

Washing food is no guarantee

In the case of the raspberries, one theory is that it was in contaminated water that was used to mix pesticides.

The Guatemalan government, which voluntarily stopped shipping raspberries to the U.S. in May, says it has taken steps to ensure that only farms with clean water produce the berries.

A consumer group says the U.S. government should stop accepting certain kinds of produce from developing countries with poor track records. But some U.S. officials don't think that's warranted.

"Imported foods have more than doubled for the past five years, and we do not have a corresponding outbreak of food borne illness associated with that," says Janice Oliver of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The experts are also considering a number of ways to kill cyclospora, including irradiating fruits and vegetables or subjecting them to ultraviolet light.

It is believed that cooking and freezing also kill the parasite. And while washing produce can help, it is no guarantee of safety.


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