McDonald's is not lovin' this. Health authorities in two states are linking an outbreak of a nasty disease to patients who ate McDonald's salads.

McDonald's reacted quickly Friday, saying they've temporarily stopped selling salads at the affected McDonald's restaurants, and at about 3,000 other McDonald's in 14 states that shared the same lettuce supplier.

The scare started with reports this week from state health officials in Illinois and Iowa. About 90 people in Illinois have contracted an intestinal illness called cyclosporiasis over the last two months--roughly 25 percent of whom said they had recently eaten a McDonald's salad.

Iowa health officials said 15 people in their states ate McDonald's salads and become ill, and the federal CDC said that 61 people in seven states were ill "from cyclosporiasis linked to McDonald's salads, with two hospitalizations," according to the Wall Street Journal.  

(There's probably some level of redundancy between the CDC's numbers and the Illinois and Iowa cases.) 

"If you ate a salad from McDonald's since mid-May and developed diarrhea and fatigue, contact a health care provider about testing and treatment," state health director Nirav D. Shah said in a press release.

Regardless, this disease sounds quite unpleasant. It's caused by a microscopic parasite called Cyclospora. Symptoms can take a week to show up after eating contaminated food, and they include things like:

  • frequent watery diarrhea
  • loss of appetite and weight
  • cramping, bloating, and/or increased gas
  • nausea (vomiting is less common)
  • fatigue
  • low-grade fever

We should note the possibility that McDonald's salads aren't the only source of the parasite. Something has to explain the 75 percent of Illinois patients who apparently didn't report eating a McDonald's salad. 

Here's McDonald's full statement, along with the list of states where the affected McDonald's are located: 

McDonald's has been in contact with public health authorities from Iowa and Illinois about an increase in Cyclospora infections in those states. Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to voluntarily stop selling salads at impacted restaurants until we can switch to another lettuce blend supplier. 

We are in the process of removing existing lettuce blend from identified restaurants and distribution centers - which includes approximately 3,000 of our U.S. restaurants primarily located in the Midwest. Of the 3,000 restaurants, at least one is located in the following states: 

  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Indiana
  • Wisconsin
  • Michigan
  • Ohio
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • South Dakota
  • Montana
  • North Dakota
  • Kentucky
  • West Virginia
  • Missouri

McDonald's is in a bind here, and it's treating it seriously. Just think of the E. Coli outbreak at Chipotle's, which affected fewer than half as many people. The restaurant chain still hasn't really recovered, according to reports this year.

Taking salads off the menu at 3,000 restaurants is significant. That number accounts for 20 percent of the chain's U.S. stores, and will certainly affect revenue. 

This is only the eighth McDonald's media statement this year, and the first one since March. I asked the company if it had any comment beyond its statement, but have not heard anything back.

But really, what else is there to say? If you've eaten a McDonald's salad lately, and if have the symptoms listed above, make sure you see a doctor. 

Published on: Jul 14, 2018
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