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Food Safety Attorney Says Cyclospora Outbreak Getting Worse

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Illnesses from a parasite linked to gas station vegetables keep climbing across Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The cyclospora outbreak first surfaced last month after customers got sick from these veggie trays sold at Kwik Trips. WCCO's Liz Collin sat down with a food safety attorney, who's fielding hundreds of calls and considers this one of the largest outbreaks of its kind.

"Even this morning I talked to several individuals that just found out today that they were a part of this outbreak," Attorney Ryan Olsterholm said.

Ryan Osterholm of the Pritzker Hageman Law Firm has spent most of his summer talking to sick people. From severe stomach cramps to nausea and other unpleasant symptoms. Some have felt it for weeks.

"If you are not treated with this very specific antibiotic for cyclospora you generally will remain sick," Osterholm said.

It's why lab results are still coming in. From people who've delayed going to the doctor, thinking it will pass.

The Minnesota Department of Health first reported 20 cases linked to Del Monte trays two weeks ago. That's doubled. And, the Centers for Disease Control has confirmed 185 cases in four states -- sending at least seven people to the hospital.

"It really has been a steady flow of cases," Osterholm said.

Osterholm first filed three separate lawsuits against Del Monte by sick clients. He's now representing 100 more.

"To have just this one particular food item cause this many people to be sick. It's one of the largest cyclospora outbreaks I've ever dealt with," Osterholm said.

In an unrelated outbreak at Sonora Grill in Minneapolis, 45 customers got sick from bad cilantro served one weekend in May. Osterholm acknowledges that testing has come a long way. Believing it's time now to stop tainted produce before it's ever served.

"We're doing a much better job of figuring this out and now it's how do we prevent these," Osterholm said.

So how can you protect yourself against cyclospora? Avoiding food that's known to be contaminated is key. That's because washing fruits and vegetables is unlikely to kill the parasite.

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