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Avoid cyclospora infections with local fruits, vegetables

Monday - 7/29/2013, 9:22am  ET

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Choosing local produce at the farmers market or grocery store is a good way to avoid a cyclospora infection. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON - A stomach bug that could be linked to a foodborne illness spread this week through nine states and sickened more than 250 people.

The Food and Drug Administration is currently investigating the cyclospora infections. According the Mayo Clinic, a one-celled parasite causes a cyclospora infection, and ingesting contaminated fresh produce is often the cause of the infection.

But before you completely steer your cart away from the produce section of the grocery store, food lawyer and expert Mary Beth Albright shares some tips and insight on selecting fruit that is less likely to be contaminated.

Albright emphasizes that the infection is linked to imported fresh produce.

"Most of the time, cyclospora is connected with tropical and subtropical fruits," Albright says. "So when you're looking at produce to purchase at the front lines in the grocery store or the farmers market, the locally grown stuff is going to be better for you."

Another reason to choose local produce is because it is less likely to foster the conditions ideal for the growth of cyclospora.

"The interesting thing about cyclospora is that it actually takes time to develop," says Albright, who adds that it's not contracted person-to-person. "It actually needs time on that produce to develop into something that can infect you. So actually if you buy something at the farmers market, that's been likely to have been picked that morning, and you eat it immediately, anything that could possibly be on that and be on that, related to cyclospora, would not have developed and would therefore not infect you."

However, when you do purchase produce, no matter where you get it from, it's important to clean it properly.

Albright suggests running produce under water, brushing the fruit or vegetable with a scrub brush and, if applicable, peeling the produce. And don't waste your money on the commercial fruit washers. Albright explains the sprays are mostly just water and vinegar.

"There's never a great time for a cyclospora infection, but if there's a good time for it, it's now. It's summertime when there's a great abundance of fruits and vegetables that are grown in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania -- right around here," Albright says.

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