In response to growing frustration and increased media attention surrounding the response to the ongoing Cyclospora outbreak, which has now sickened at least 418 people in 16 states, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) on Thursday “demanded” answers from federal health officials about why they have not given the public more information. Citing concerns raised by a handful of high-profile food safety experts, DeLauro, a key appropriator, wrote a letter to both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pointing out that a full month into the investigation “there is minimal information available to the public on the possible cause(s) of this outbreak from federal agencies.” The cause of the outbreak, it seems, is in dispute. As Food Safety News has reported, state officials in Iowa and Nebraska, which have 146 and 81 cases, respectively, have identified bagged salad mix containing romaine and iceberg lettuce, cabbage, and carrots as the likely culprit, but have offered no more detail on which of the ingredients in the mix, or which company or distributor, might be to blame. Federal health officials and the other states involved have not pinned the outbreak on a source. Both CDC and FDA have said they are still pursuing other leads. “I recognize it’s frustrating when we’re not able to give all the information people want at this point in the outbreak investigation,” said CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds on Wednesday. “However, what we have learned from Iowa and Nebraska gives us a strong lead on a possible source for the outbreak.” FDA spokesman Doug Karas said the agency’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network is “following the strongest leads provided by the states and has prioritized the ingredients of the salad mix identified by Iowa for the traceback investigation, but is following other leads as well.” Karas said the traceback process is “labor intensive and painstaking work, requiring the collection, review and analysis of hundreds and at times thousands of invoices and shipping documents” and noted FDA has dedicated at least 17 staff to working on the outbreak. In her letter to the agencies Thursday, DeLauro requested details and timelines on how exactly the inter-agency investigation has unfolded. She asked for a timeline that includes data and specific dates that “indicated possible associations between the outbreak and particular food products” and details on when such information was shared with states, industry, and the public. “Understandably, investigations of disease outbreaks, including foodborne disease, must be thorough and thoughtful,” wrote DeLauro. “At the same time, the public was left in the dark as an outbreak leaped from 2 cases to nearly 400 and questions around data and information sharing abound.” DeLauro asked why neither Iowa nor Nebraska has released “the brand, producer, or country of origin of the food product associated with the cases within their state.” She also asked whether FDA or CDC consider it acceptable to identify the source of an outbreak and withhold that information and, if so, to provide the rationale and legal justification. If regulators know the source and are “intentionally” withholding that information, wrote DeLauro, it would be “an alarming precedent and incredible disappointment to consumers who expect a transparent federal food safety system that protects the public health.” Cyclospora, a microscopic parasite that can be transferred via contaminated food or water, can cause infection, or cyclosporiasis. Common symptoms include watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, and weight loss, according to CDC, and usually begin about a week after exposure.

  • gatorepi

    How easy it is to criticize the speed and accuracy of this investigation from an office in either Minnesota or D.C. This is observational science, not a controlled experiment. It is subject to the vagaries of memory, incomplete records and the pressure cooker created by political and media rancor. I am certain there was neither intent to conceal information from the public nor a stalling of the investigation. Walk for a week or two in the investigators shoes and see how well they fit!

  • farmber

    Is there really any doubt that the long supply chains of the industrialized food system are inherently Much more risky for Much larger segments of the population than localized sourcing??

    You wouldn’t guess it from the thrust of FDA’s proposed regs for FSMA that are directed at short-supply chain agriculture, however…

    • Michael Bulger

      farmber, can you explain what you mean by “the thrust of FDA’s proposed regs for FSMA that are directed at short-supply chain agriculture”?

  • mjv64

    Consider that they just got sued by the tomato grower, you can understand why they have to be so certain before they name the source. Anybody had any experience with food-borne illness investigation can tell you how difficult it is to get the food history from people not mention the illness has a long incubation period. Not many people can remember what they ate 2 weeks ago. Plus, salad mix is such a common food item that one can eat multiple times at multiple settings within 2 weeks which makes things even worse.

  • WilyWondr

    How hard would it be to look at what common bagged salad some of these 300+ people ate and see which one is most common. My guess is the list of common bagged salads would be extremely short.

    IMO it is Fresh Express but I do not understand why not a single victim has come forward with the brand they ate. Does the press not know how to ask the victims what brand of bagged salads they ate?

  • Stephanie Mullany

    Thank you, Congresswoman DeLauro, for your willingness to step up to diligently address this issue.

  • Lawrencect

    What does demand answers mean? Or is it a feeble attempt to extract “donations” for her party and self before conveniently allowing the inquiry to become mired in the investigative process?

    How about throwing the perpetrators in jail? Actually availing the legal system to punish the guilty. Fining company’s thousands of dollars when they make millions is a justifiable business expense. When it becomes a personal risk, the abuses and shortcuts will stop.