The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA), formerly the United Fresh and Produce Marketing Association, has distributed a report on Cyclospora cayetanensis in produce.

This report is released and published by the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF).  The USDA empowers this committee, and it is not otherwise associated with IFPA otherwise.

The committee worked for two years to prepare the report, which is based on expert interviews and data collected from expert sources,  published literature, reports, and other sources. The report has been published and can be read in full on the USDA website.  

Cyclospora is a microscopic parasite that causes Cyclosoriosis, an intestinal illness. People can become infected with Cyclosporine by consuming food or water, including fresh produce, contaminated with the parasite. Living or traveling in areas where cyclosporiasis is endemic increases the risk of infection.

The IFPA report answers 18 questions the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put forth. The FDA had sought  “information on the factors that can contribute to C. cayetanensis contamination of domestically grown and imported produce and recommendations for developing an effective prevention and management strategy.”

In response to the FDA’s questions, the IFPA report makes these four recommendations:

1. To facilitate future research, e.g., validation of surrogates, studies on environmental persistence and attachment, and identification and validation of control strategies, the committee urges the development of a practical method to propagate C. cayetanensis oocysts in laboratory settings.

2. Because of the limited availability of C. cayetanensis oocysts, research with surrogates — and specifically with the close relative Eimeria — can be informative for identifying control strategies and learning about persistence in the production environment.

3. Method development for detecting C. cayetanensis in food and environmental samples should include the evaluation of multiple genetic targets representing different genome regions. Modifications to current molecular methods for detecting C. cayetanensis should be thoroughly validated for impacts on specificity before using modified methods on food or environmental samples. Conversely, detection methods should be robust, reproducible, and tolerant of minor modifications in the methodologies, e.g., brand of equipment or reagents, minor deviations in PCR conditions, etc., without sacrificing specificity or sensitivity.

4. Given that the hypothesized likeliest source of the parasite in the food production environment (individuals with a history of recent travel to areas where infections with C.cayetanensis are common or other exposures to the parasite), preventative measures should center around clear sanitation guidelines, ensuring on-site capacity for implementing sanitation protocols (i.e., readily accessible hand washing stations with soap, etc.) and periodic training of the employees.

“Cyclospora spp. are protozoan parasites in the phylum Apicomplexan that can parasitize different species of mammals with remarkable host-specificity. Cyclospora has a complex life cycle and can only multiply within the infected hosts. Among the Cyclospora species, only Cyclospora cayetanensis is known to infect humans; all other species are associated with infections in other animals,” according to the IFPA report.  

In releasing the report, IFPA said there were “four major takeaways” for the produce industry, including:

  • Based on the research from the committee, the current testing procedures in place do not adequately differentiate between the species of Cyclospora that causes illness in humans and others, referencing reports indicating 90 percent false-positive rates of methodologies underlying some standard tests. To manage this parasite and the risks associated with it, there must be a reliable and replicable testing procedure to identify Cyclospora in environmental samples and foods.  
  • The pathogen C. cayetanesis appears to be resistant to common chemical interventions, and it is recommended that antimicrobials or chemicals should be evaluated.  This is an area of potential innovation for the industry.  
  • The report also highlights the need for a risk-based (rather than hazard-based) approach to managing this parasite. 
  • Cyclospora is only carried by humans, and individuals with a recent history of travel to areas where Cyclospora is highly prevalent are likely the primary source of contamination with the parasite along the entire production-processing-food service/retail continuum.  Therefore, it is essential to ensure that workers are well-trained in inappropriate hygienic practices and that necessary equipment and infrastructure are on-site to manage any contamination of farm water sources. This includes well-managed toilet facilities, gloves, aprons, etc, are all available.  Public health aspects of managing Cyclospora cannot be overlooked. 

“Humans are the only known reservoir for Cyclospora cayetanensis and an essential host for the lifecycle of this protozoan parasite, but there is so much that we still do not understand about the organism,” said Natalie Dyenson, IFPA chief food safety officer.

“The produce industry, through organizations like the Center for Produce Safety, has been funding research over the past six years, but to fill these knowledge gaps, public health agencies must engage and provide federal funding to support these efforts. Treating this organism as a public health concern by early identification and treatment of human cases in communities where the parasite is endemic to disrupt the life cycle of the parasite is already being used effectively in countries outside of the U.S. where Cyclospora is endemic.”  

IFPA’s  Dr. Max Teplitski said much is unknown about Cyclospora because we don’t have reliable means to identify it in our food system. 

“The produce industry is committed to being the best partner with our regulatory bodies to use the science available to us to improve our ability to keep our consumers safe,” Teplitski added. “As an industry, we’re committed to following the best available science to guide decisions and strategies to ensure that produce is as safe as possible.” 

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