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UK crypto outbreak highlights perils of the package holiday salad buffet

An outbreak of cryptosporidium in the UK in May 2012 has been traced to pre-packed salad leaves which many retailers stock.

Holiday Hotel Watch

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Health Protection Agency (HPA) were called in after a spike in the normal number of cases of cryptosporidium.

The parasitic infection is usually found in swimming pools – and often holidaymakers abroad who fall ill with holiday sickness and diarrhoea are diagnosed with cryptosporidium, which can survive in infected water and is transmitted by the faecal-oral route. Both animal and human faeces can carry cryptosporidium and many cases contracted abroad are the result of dirty hotel swimming pools or as a result of salads and fruit being washed in contaminated water.

The symptoms of crypto infection are sickness and diarrhoea, as well as stomach cramps, headache and fever.

In the UK, outbreaks of crypto have been known to close local swimming pools for disinfecting.

However, some hotels abroad do not maintain adequate levels of chlorine in hotel pools – or do not enforce strict rules about bathers showering before using the pool.

Crypto can also be caused by children wearing dirty nappies in a pool – or swimmers soiling the water if they are already suffering from a holiday stomach illness.

Hotel swimming pools should be tested daily for infections such as crypto and chlorine levels also checked on a daily basis.

The source of the UK outbreak of crypto last May could not be traced to a specific source among the salads examined by the HPA – and as leaves in many packs of pre-cut salads are washed and packed in the same preparation room, the investigation could not pinpoint one particular salad ingredient as the source.

To avoid contracting infections such as cryptosporidium from foods grown or washed in contaminated water, salads and unpeeled fruits should always be washed before eating – and hands and cooking utensils should also be kept clean.

Holidaymakers using all-inclusive buffets should report any cross contamination of serving utensils between different foods – as well as any salads contaminated with dirt or which are not freshly prepared or chilled on the buffet.

Director of Food Safety at the FSA, Dr Alison Gleadle, said:

“We’d like to remind everyone of our usual advice to wash all fruits and vegetables, including salad, before you eat them – unless they are labelled ‘ready-to-eat’.

“It’s also important to wash hands thoroughly, as well as clean chopping boards, knives and other utensils between preparing raw and ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross contamination.

“This outbreak was fortunately short lived, but it was important to see if we could find the source. Our findings suggest that eating mixed leaf bagged salad was the most likely cause of illness.”

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Dated: 20/04/2013

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