Public health officials are warning Ontarians to protect themselves after an outbreak of the intestinal illness Cyclospora, which is caused by a parasite that's nearly impossible to wash off produce.
There have been 83 cases of Cyclospora investigated in Canada between May 9 and July 18, 74 of which are in Ontario, the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement.
Nobody has died in connection with the outbreak, but two people were hospitalized. Cyclospora causes stomach cramps, diarrhea and loss of appetite, but for most people it can be cured with antibiotics. For many, it can present itself in the same ways as a stomach flu would, public health officials say.
Toronto grocery shoppers said they're concerned about the outbreak.
"I'm going to make choices and move away from that food," said Tristan Wiley.
One alternative is Canadian produce, which has so far been unaffected by the parasite.
Dr. Doug Sider, Public Health Ontario said the Cyclospora parasite isn't native to environments like Ontario's, but it can "thrive" in tropical or semi-tropical climates.
And, Sider warns, running water over your imported produce likely won't be enough to remove the parasites.
"No matter how much you wash them you're probably not going to remove them," he said.
The source of the outbreak isn't clear, though in past cases Cyclospora has been linked to imported fresh produce, including pre-packed salad mix, herbs like basil and cilantro, or berries.
Sider said public health officials continue to look for the origin of the Cyclospora outbreak, with the hope of making changes that could improve food safety.
To help avoid getting sick, public health officials are urging people to clean their counters and fridges, keep raw food away from other foods while shopping and preparing meals and to cook of heat food at a high temperature.