Another outbreak of foodborne illness leaves dozens sick in Tampa Bay area
A new outbreak of foodborne illness hit Florida and the Tampa Bay area this summer, but the health department never notified the public, a Dirty Dining investigation has found.
The main cyclosporosis outbreak began during the summer months and spread to the United States with fresh basil imported by a Mexican distribution company, according to the CDC.
Hundreds of people in 11 states have fallen ill from the parasitic infection – despite the company recalling basil on July 24.
Dr Beata Casanas, an infectious disease physician at Tampa General Hospital and USF Health, said he has seen a dramatic increase in the number of cases this year.
Normally, Florida has about 75 cases per year. But so far in 2019, more than 530 cases have been recorded, including dozens of cases locally, with Hillsborough and Pinellas counties recording the highest numbers in the Tampa Bay area.
According to state inspection reports, the Oxford Exchange in Tampa had two confirmed cases in June and August, while another case was discovered in June at Gianni’s NY Pizza in St. Petersburg.
Cyclosporosis is an intestinal disease caused by the microscopic parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis, According to the CDC. Symptoms can include watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, and nausea.
“It can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks – sometimes even months,” Casanas said.
Holly Green-Pellegrini, who fell ill with the parasite after eating at a Nordstrom Bazille in Jacksonville on June 17, said she was still in pain.
“The pain at night is terrible. Sometimes I don’t eat at all because I can’t, ”said Green-Pellegrini.
Green-Pellegrini said she was so sick and contagious that doctors banned her from visiting her dying sister in a medical facility before she died.
And Green-Pellegrini was not the only one.
According to the state, more than two dozen customers who ate at the same Nordstrom restaurant also fell ill. The state’s health department wrote that it “estimates that every client consumed basil that was likely already contaminated with the parasite before it was delivered to the facility.”
In Tampa, three people tested positive for the parasite after eating at Nordstrom Bazille in International Plaza, according to health department records.
“When you don’t take the necessary precautions in handling your food, you are playing Russian roulette with your customers and the health of your customers,” said Ron Simon, a national food safety lawyer.
Simon has filed several lawsuits against restaurants in Florida during the recent outbreak, including a lawsuit in the Green-Pellegrini case.
Simon warns of the risks of imported products.
“To get cyclosporosis, you need to consume food or drink that contains human feces,” Simon said. “It’s disgusting and it’s unfortunate, but it’s very, very dangerous.”
There is no vaccine, so experts recommend that patients who believe they have been infected with the parasite should be tested and treated immediately.
No one at Nordstrom Bazille, Oxford Exchange and Gianni’s wanted to talk about these cases on camera, but restaurants told ABC Action News they are taking these issues seriously and are cooperating with the health department. Gianni’s also said it stopped buying basil from its supplier.
Nordstrom Corporate Communications Statement:
“The well-being and safety of our customers and employees is our top priority. We take these issues seriously and strive to meet all health department safety and hygiene requirements. We worked directly with the Department of Health.
Oxford Exchange Statement:
“We have been inspected by the health department and all of our products have been tested and passed without any cyclosporosis found. The state did not tell us that any of our suppliers were associated with their investigation. “
Statement from Gianni’s NY Pizza:
“The cyclosporosis case that occurred on June 24 did not come to our attention until around August 18 when the health service carried out an inspection. After being made aware of the possibility of basil contamination, we immediately stopped using basil on any of our food products. After performing further research, it was confirmed that the FDA’s traceability investigation confirmed that the fresh basil that was making some consumers sick was exported to the United States by Siga Logistics of RL de CV located in Morelos, Mexico. . Several other states were included in the cases: CT, FL, GA, IA, MA, MN, NY, OH, RI, SC, WI. Exhibits occurred at restaurants in five states: FL, MN, NY, OH, WI.
Once this information was revealed, we immediately changed the supplier from where we were purchasing our basil for a US-based farm from another supplier. We had no problem before or after this particular case.
As a foodservice operator with over 60 years of experience, we practice safe food handling and preparation measures at all times by washing and thoroughly sanitizing all foodservice contact areas, in addition to wash and disinfect our hands frequently.
We take food handling and preparation extremely seriously and understand that not only does our animated hood depend on it, but also the care of all the wonderful customers we serve on a daily basis and who trust us to serve them a delicious and safe meal. high quality.