Iowa, Illinois investigating infections linked to McDonald’s salad

FILE PHOTO: The logo of a McDonald's Corp restaurant is seen in Los Angeles, California, U.S. October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

(Reuters) – The Iowa and Illinois health departments said on Thursday that they were investigating cyclospora infections linked to salads at McDonald Corp’s restaurants.

McDonald’s shares fell 1.4 percent after-hours on Thursday.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said it had seen about 90 cases, and the Iowa Department of Public Health said it had recorded 15 cases.

In about one-fourth of the Illinois cases people reported eating salads from McDonald’s in the days before they became ill.

McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain, said in a statement that it had been in contact with public health authorities in both states.

It said that it had voluntarily stopped selling salads at the approximately 3,000 affected U.S. restaurants until it could switch to another lettuce blend supplier.

“We are closely monitoring this situation and cooperating with state and federal public health authorities as they further investigate,” the company said.

The parasite, cyclospora cayetanensis, infects the small intestine, typically causing watery diarrhea and frequent, sometimes explosive bowel movements. It is spread by ingesting food or water contaminated with feces and not directly from one person to another.

Several outbreaks have occurred in the United States in the past several years, especially during the summer months, that had been linked to imported fresh produce including raspberries, basil, snow peas, and lettuce.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru and Alana Wise in New York; Editing by Maju Samuel)

Spanish lettuce shortage likely to continue into March, say farmers

iceberg lettuce farm

By Emma Pinedo and Francisco Bonilla

LOS ALCAZARES, Spain (Reuters) – A shortage of iceberg lettuce is likely to continue into March, Spanish farmers say, because freak weather conditions in the south of the country early in the agricultural year prevented the planting of seedlings to replace ruined crops.

The southern region of Murcia, where most Spanish lettuce grown for export is cultivated, suffered the worst floods in two decades followed by its first snow storm in over 30 years in December and January.

“This has been extraordinary, it’s not normal to have so many problems at once,” said Jose Antonio Canovas, a farmer and salesman in Murcia for Kernel Export, which grows, packages and delivers a range of vegetables from cauliflower to broccoli.

The ruined harvest and subsequent shortage of produce has led some British supermarkets like Tesco <TSCO.L> and Sainsbury <SBRY.L> to ration iceberg lettuces to three per visit. The limited supply follows a shortage of courgettes in Britain and supplies of broccoli and aubergines have also been affected.

Vegetable production in the European Union has fallen to 60 percent of normal levels in recent weeks due to bad weather affecting producers across the Mediterranean, from Greece to Spain, Spanish exporters say. Spain accounts for around half of EU vegetable exports.

Not only did floods and snow ruin crops, leaving lettuces ready for harvest withered and battered in the fields, but the bad weather prevented the planting of polytunnel-grown seedlings which meant more delays to the next harvest of Spain’s biggest fruit and vegetable export after tomatoes.

“We have notified our customers that there may be production delays in March because the planting of seedlings has been delayed and in the rush to supply the market some crops were picked ahead of time,” said Fernando Gomez, general manager of The Murcian Federation of Producers and Exporters of Fruit and Vegetables (Proexport).

The production of lettuces, one of the most badly affected crops, has fallen by up to a third in the peak winter months of production when Spain harvests over 100,000 tonnes of the 700,000 tonnes it exports annually.

Production is likely to return to normal by the end of March or the beginning of April, Proexport’s Gomez said.

Many farmers in the area do not insure their crops. In a sector with very slim profit margins of between 1.5 and 4 percent, profit relies on big volumes. Higher prices have not made up for the losses farmers have suffered.

Alongside the hit from ruined crops, the hiring of specialized labor to work the flooded and frozen fields has also eaten into profit margins at farms.

(Writing by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Angus Berwick and Adrian Croft)