• By Deborah Balzer

Infectious Diseases A-Z: Foodborne illnesses linked to produce

August 27, 2018

a kitchen sink filled with fruits and vegetables being washedMore than a dozen multistate outbreaks of foodborne illnesses have been reported this year to date, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And a number of food recalls have taken place this summer related to cyclospora infection, says Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic.

"Predominantly, these outbreaks are linked to fresh produce, and it’s usually produce that has been imported from other countries," says Dr. Rajapakse. Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal infection caused by a parasite called Cyclospora cayetanensis.

Watch: Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse discusses cyclospora infection.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Rajapakse are in the downloads.

The parasite is too small to be seen without a microscope. It also has a different pattern than many other gastrointestinal illnesses. "It can wax and wane," says Dr. Rajapakse. "You may feel sick for a while and then feel better for a period before you start feeling sick again."

Symptoms of cyclospora infection include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Dr. Rajapakse says some people may experience significant weight loss because the infection can go on longer than many common causes of foodborne infections. If not treated, the illness may last from a few days to a month or longer, according to the CDC.

How to prevent foodborne illnesses

Dr. Rajapakse recommends consumers stay informed of food recalls and outbreaks, practice good hand hygiene, cook food properly and wash fresh produce before eating. "Practice safe food handling, says Dr. Rajapakse. "That includes making sure that you wash any produce really well. If you are cooking, make sure that food is cooked properly, as that can kill a lot of harmful bacteria."

Washing produce with clean, running water will help eliminate dirt and germs. Dr. Rajapakse says it important to wash fruits and vegetables before consuming for multiple reasons. "There can be infections that are transmitted either through the water that was used to water the item or through the soil that can sometimes be left on the item." Washing also helps remove pesticides and other material from the surface of fruits and vegetables.

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