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FDA steps up scrutiny of Mexican leafy greens after Taylor facility linked to outbreak

WASHINGTON — After the Food & Drug Administration identified Taylor Farms de Mexico, a processor of foodservice salads, as the common supplier of salads linked to an outbreak of cyclosporiasis, the agency said it plans to increase its surveillance of imported green leafy products from Mexico.

As of Aug. 1, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reported 400 cases of Cyclospora infection from the following health departments: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, New York City, Texas, Ohio and Wisconsin.

On Aug. 3, FDA confirmed results reported by Iowa and Nebraska officials that the disease outbreak appears linked to a salad mix, and that the common product supplied to Darden Restaurants in those states was salad supplied by Taylor Farms de Mexico.

"Taylor Farms de Mexico, S. de R.L. de C.V. has been cooperating with all FDA requests during the investigation," FDA said. "The FDA and the firm will be conducting an environmental assessment of the firm's processing facility in Mexico to try to learn the probable cause of the outbreak and identify preventive controls to put in place to try and prevent a recurrence."

The FDA found no notable issues with the Mexican facility during its most recent inspection in 2011, and the agency has not implicated consumer salad packages sold in grocery stores in the latest probe.

Iowa and Nebraska health officials said the tainted salad mix is no longer in the food supply in those states, as the last illness onset data was on July 1 in Iowa and July 2 in Nebraska and the typical shelf life for a salad mix is up to 14 days.

However, the agency does plan to increase surveillance of Mexican-originated leafy greens as a result of the recent discovery, FDA announced Aug. 3.

Taylor Farms issued an Aug. 3 statement to state the company is cooperating fully with FDA's investigation, and that it is enhancing its testing program to assure further food safety at its state-of-the-art facility.

"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 company said. "That is why Taylor Farms de Mexico assesses and tests all water sources, raw product fields; every lot, every day for any risk to our valued customers' products."

The company said it invited the FDA to visit the Mexico facility to conduct an environmental assessment and review its food-safety systems. During June, the Mexico facility produced and distributed about 48 million servings of salads to thousands of restaurants in the Midwest and eastern United States.

In the meantime, the FDA said it has a 21-person team housed at its suburban Maryland headquarters working to solve the outbreak, along with FDA specialists in the agency's 10 field offices.

The FDA has asked its field offices to review and send information forward from consumer complaints that could be Cyclospora related. It will evaluate these consumer complaints to see if they supplement the epidemiology provided by the CDC and the states.

This information will be evaluated to determine if there might be opportunities to collect product samples, the FDA said.