Bagged salad is usually a healthy and convenient option for people on the go, but according to reports this week, prepackaged greens may be the culprit behind the mysterious stomach bug that has troubled health officials and sickened hundreds in parts of the U.S. since June.
"The evidence points to a salad mix containing iceberg and romaine lettuce, as well as carrots and red cabbage as the source of the outbreak reported in Iowa and Nebraska," Steven Mandernach, chief of the Food and Consumer Safety Bureau of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, told the news outlet.
With more than 140 reported cases of cyclospora infection, Iowa is the state that has been hardest hit by the stomach bug. As of Tuesday, Texas has 101 confirmed cases and Nebraska has 78.
Iowa's Department of Public Health says that at least 80 percent of the state's reported cases were exposed to the same salad mix, CBS News reports. Health officials say the bagged greens (the brand and manufacturer of which have yet to be named) are no longer in Iowa's food supply chain.
While federal health officials warned this week that they are still unsure whether the bagged salad is the sole cause for the stomach bug outbreak, the Food and Drug Administration has assured consumers that an investigation is ongoing.
"FDA will continue to work with its federal, state and local partners in the investigation to determine whether this conclusion applies to the increased number of cases of cyclosporiasis in other states," the agency said in a statement. "The goal will be to combine information collected from other affected states with that provided by the state health authorities in Iowa to identify a specific food item linked to the illnesses."
As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than 370 cases of cyclospora infection have been reported in 16 states. At least 21 people have reportedly been hospitalized.
According to CBS News, the cause of this stomach bug is the parasite cyclospora, which can be traced back to contaminated food or drinking water. The symptoms of a cyclospora infection include diarrhea, cramping, bloating, nausea and fatigue. Iowa health officials say the diarrhea can last for an average of 57 days if untreated.
57 days of diarrhea?! Gasp.