Food safety lawyer Tony Coveny, whose law firm Simon and Luke will represent 11 of the confirmed cyclospora victims once a company is named, said it's typical of the FDA to hold off on revealing company names associated with outbreaks because it helps foster better cooperation during their investigations. Once the FDA has enough evidence, it presents that information to companies to encourage voluntary recalls.
If a company continues to sell poisonous food once it has been presented evidence that it's caused an outbreak, that company can be sued for punitive damages in the "hundreds of millions of dollars" for willfully distributing unsafe food, Coveny said. To save themselves from that, companies usually issue recalls on their own.
Even though Iowa officials have linked the cyclospora to prepackaged salads, the state has a law that prevents it from naming brands or companies associated with outbreaks. The law protects people and businesses associated with outbreaks unless there's a public health concern, Quinlisk said.
Nebraska has a similar state law.
Since Iowa health officials tied the salad to the cyclospora outbreak several weeks after people stopped getting infected, it's no longer a public health issue, she said. Even though case counts appear to be going up, the new patients reported that their symptoms actually started in June.
"I can no more tell you Joe Blow has salmonella than Brand X has cyclospora," Quinlisk said. "There's no indication that there's any continued threat to the public."
Waldrop, from the Consumer Federation of America, called that "ridiculous."
"Companies who are making people sick shouldn't be kept anonymous," he said. "They should be held accountable. One way to do that is to provide the name of company so people know what company was responsible for making people sick -- even if number of illnesses is starting to decline."