Food safety advocates say they are alarmed by a lack of information being disseminated about the spread of a nasty intestinal illness that has sickened nearly 400 people nationwide, including cases in two states that have been linked to prepackaged salad.
The outbreak of the rare parasite cyclospora has been reported in at least 15 states, and federal officials warned Wednesday it was too early to say that the threat was over.
But if you're looking to find out exactly where it came from, you may be out of luck.
Health officials in Nebraska and Iowa say they've traced cases there to prepackaged salad, but they haven't said which brand or where it was sold, explaining only that most if not all of it wasn't grown locally.
The lack of information has fueled concern from consumers and others who argue that companies should be held accountable when outbreaks happen and that customers need the information about where outbreaks originated to make smart food choices.
"If you want the free market to work properly, then you need to let people have the information they need to make informed decisions," said Bill Marler, a Seattle attorney who specializes in class-action food-safety lawsuits.
Heath officials in California, which provides much of the nation's leafy green produce, said Wednesday that the state hadn't received any reports of cyclospora cases.
"Based on the most currently available information, the leafy greens being implicated in this outbreak were not grown or processed in California," Corey Egel, a California Department of Public Health spokesman, said in a statement to The Associated Press.
Mark Hutson, who owns a Save-Mart grocery store in Lincoln, Neb., said the lack of specific brand information threatened to hurt all providers, including the good actors.
"I think there was so little information as to what was causing the problem, that people just weren't sure what to do," he said. "Frankly, we would prefer to have the names out there."
Authorities said they still hadn't determined whether the cases of cyclospora in the different states are connected.
"It's too early to say for sure whether it's over, and thus too early to say there's no risk of still getting sick," said María-Belén Moran, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Only Iowa and Nebraska officials have directly linked the outbreak in their states to a salad mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce, carrots and red cabbage. But consumers far from known outbreak areas have acknowledged it was a factor as they shopped for produce.
- Karen Brooks, has been covering the cyclospora outbreak for Reuters.
This segment aired on August 1, 2013.