For new information, please see "Taylor Farms suspends Mexican operations linked to cyclospora"

Taylor Farms keeps operating through cyclospora investigationThe salad mix from Taylor Farms de Mexico, S. de R.L. de C.V. linked to a cyclospora parasite outbreak hasn’t been in the supply chain for weeks, but illnesses continue to be diagnosed with more than 500 cases reported across 16 states.

The Food and Drug Administration named the packaged salad from the Mexican facility operated by Salinas, Calif.-based Taylor Farms on Aug. 2 as the source for infections in Iowa and Nebraska. In that announcement, FDA officials said they are increasing surveillance efforts on green leafy products exported to the U.S. from Mexico.

The Mexican facility exclusively provides fresh-cut and value-added products for the foodservice industry, according to a statement on the Taylor Farms website. Health officials traced Iowa and Nebraska infections back to a salad mix served at Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants in those states.

Bruce Taylor, who helped found Taylor Farms in 1995 and is chief executive officer, said on Aug. 8 the salad mix was distributed to all 16 states that have cyclospora cases, as well as other states that do not. He said the salad mix was sent to 14 different distributors.

Taylor Farms keeps operating through cyclospora investigationFacility did not shut down

Taylor said the facility in Mexico did not stop shipping and is continuing to operate because no cyclospora has been found there and the implicated lots of salad mix have been out of the supply chain for weeks.

“We’ve probably done more than 60 tests in Mexico and we haven’t found any cyclospora at the plant, in the water, in seedlings or any place,” Taylor said. “We checked with Mexican authorities and they don’t have any reports of (cyclospora) cases in the area around our plant there.”

Taylor said his company built the plant in Mexico six years ago. It and the company’s other 11 facilities in North America all use Taylor Farms’ proprietary food wash SmartWash, but Taylor said as far as he knows it is not effective against cyclospora because it is a parasite, not bacteria.

It is not company policy to test for cyclospora, Taylor said. However, a cyclospora testing program is now in place at the Mexican facility until further notice.

Taylor said even though FDA does not have authority in Mexico, the company invited the agency to inspect the plant in 2011, which it did. The assessment of the facility and operation was outstanding “with no notable issues” according to the statement on Taylor Farms’ website.

In June, Taylor Farms De Mexico produced and distributed about 48 million servings of salads to thousands of restaurants in the Midwest and eastern U.S., according to the company website. The facility produces about 2 million salads daily

Taylor Farms keeps operating through cyclospora investigationThe investigation

FDA’s investigation has not implicated consumer packages sold in grocery stores, according to the agency’s Aug. 6 update. FDA officials did not immediately responded to questions about the outbreak or investigation.

A total of 504 people nationwide had been confirmed with the parasitic infection as of Aug. 7, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal officials say they do not know if all of the outbreaks are related or what other sources of the parasite could be involved.

However, because of the extended duration of cyclospora infection symptoms — three months to a year without medication — sick people are continuing to seek treatment and tests are confirming a growing number of infections. Iowa officials first reported infections of the single-celled parasite in late June.

The CDC reports confirmed cyclospora infections in: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. Thirty people have been admitted to hospitals with the infection.

Officials with Darden Restaurants, the parent company of Red Lobster and Olive Garden also did not answer questions regarding where the salad mix was distributed or whether its other restaurant banners received it.

“We have been fully cooperating with the FDA, as well as the Iowa and Nebraska Health Departments ... We respect their findings and will continue to work with them on this matter,” said Darden communications director Rich Jeffers.