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Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer at Marler Clark in Seattle, said that although the cases outside Iowa and Nebraska have yet to be traced, it’s hard to believe they came from different sources. “When you’re having a rare bug outbreak, all within a 30-day period in the middle of the country, it’s pretty hard to say that they’re not somehow related,” he said.

Co-packaging at a plant or shared farmland with Taylor Farms may be to blame for the outbreak in Texas and other states, he added.

Cyclosporiasis is very rare, Marler said, noting that the last case of the disease that he handled was 10 years ago and was related to raspberries from South America.

Cyclospora is a parasite that causes cyclosporiasis, an intestinal infection marked by vomiting, headaches, weight loss, diarrhea, stomach pain, and other flu-like symptoms, according to the FDA. Infections occur when a person eats food or drinks water contaminated with the parasite, and illness can last for a few days to longer than a month.

Marler said that Matteis may have some success with her suit against Darden but also noted that it’s easier to win cases in which the contamination causes long-term damage. Cyclosporiasis is very uncomfortable, he said, but has little long-term impact.

“It seems Darden is on the hook,” he said. “One of the most effective things a restaurant can do [when an outbreak occurs] is to define the problem and say ‘this is our problem.’ Our product made customers sick.”

However, he said, it is important to note that it’s likely not all cases came from Darden’s restaurants. It’s possible other outlets distributed contaminated food as well.

As of Monday at 5 p.m. there were more than 466 reported cases of cyclosporiasis in 16 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Iowa and Texas reported the most cases, with 151 reports in Iowa, and 157 cases reported in Texas. In Florida, where Darden is based, 25 cases were reported.

Orlando-based Darden Restaurants has more than 2,100 locations systemwide.

Contact Erin Dostal at erin.dostal@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @erindostal