FDA Issues New Cyclospora Food Poisoning Prevention Plan

Federal health officials have announced a new Cyclospora food poisoning plan, which is aimed at preventing outbreaks and quickly identifying sources of contamination.

A Cyclospora Prevention, Response and Research Action Plan was announced by the FDA on July 1, outlining a series of new scientific methods and technologies that can serve as a strategic guide to improve prevention, enhance response activities and fill knowledge gaps about the presence of Cyclospora in the U.S. food supply chain.

Cyclospora is a single-celled parasite, which causes severe intestinal infections that can be spread through human waste. Side effects can include stomach cramps, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, and weight loss. In some cases, the illness can become severe and lead to vomiting, fever and body aches.

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While Cyclospora rarely leads to death, the infection can last for several days to a few months, often recurring after the patient seems better.

Due to rising case numbers and the emergence of Cyclospora contamination in domestically grown produce, the FDA created a Cyclospora Task Force in 2019, comprised of multidisciplinary experts across the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The task force formulated the Cyclospora plan introduced this week under the FDA’s New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative. The plan highlights how the task force will address Cyclospora safety issue through the development and delivery of prevention-focused education materials and outreach to stakeholders.

Advanced, industry wide rapid test kits have also been developed for quickly identifying Cyclospora contamination, which will also serve to better facilitate root cause analysis of outbreaks, according to the FDA.

In addition, the FDA indicates it has developed a new investigational tool to help guide and assess potentially contaminated farms. The agency is also expanding laboratory capacity across the U.S. to provide greater ability to investigate target sites during outbreaks.

According to the CDC, there have been roughly 6,000 domestically acquired cases of Cyclospora over the last three years, with these types of illnesses usually spiking during the spring and summer, particularly in May, June and July.

The initiative was introduced following one of the largest Cyclospora leafy-green outbreaks recorded in August 2020, in which nearly 700 consumers fell ill across 14 states, resulting in 38 hospitalizations. Officials ultimately linked the outbreak to contaminated Fresh Express bagged salad products, after water samples collected at the north and south of where the Florida farm accessed canal water for seepage irrigation were found to be positive for Cyclospora cayetanensis.

In 2018, the CDC released a report warning of increasing numbers of Cyclospora cases, revealing approximately 2,200 cases had been reported by September 2018, with about one-third of those food poisoning cases stemming from contaminated vegetable trays and salads distributed in the mid-west United States.

One of the 2018 outbreaks contributing to the rise in numbers was linked to recalled McDonald’s Fresh Express salads which contained romaine lettuce and carrot mixes contaminated with Cyclospora.


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