As part of the ongoing efforts to combat foodborne illness and aligned with our New Era of Smarter Food Safety initiative, today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released the Cyclospora Prevention, Response and Research Action Plan. Modeled after the Leafy Greens Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) Action Plan, the plan focuses on improving prevention, enhancing response activities and filling knowledge gaps in order to help prevent Cyclospora contamination of foods and to help prepare for responding to future outbreaks.
Cyclosporiasis is a foodborne intestinal illness caused by Cyclospora cayetanensis. The most common symptoms of cyclosporiasis are diarrhea, weight loss, nausea and fatigue. Cyclospora is historically associated with imported produce or travel outside the U.S.; however, we have also detected Cyclospora in domestically produced foods in recent years.
The availability of new testing methods for Cyclospora developed at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition played an important role in helping the FDA identify these positive samples of Cyclospora in the cilantro and in the salad mix. The number of reported cases of this foodborne illness has been rising in recent years, in part because of better diagnostic and detection methods.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been roughly 6,000 domestically acquired cases of Cyclospora over the last three years. The number of reported cases typically rises during the spring and summer, usually in May, June and July. Rising case numbers and the emergence of Cyclospora contamination in domestically grown produce prompted the FDA to create the Cyclospora Task Force in 2019. The task force is comprised of multidisciplinary experts across the FDA and CDC, with the goal of reducing the public health burden of foodborne illness caused by Cyclospora in produce.
The task force formulated the action plan announced today, which will serve as a strategic guide to improve prevention, enhance response activities and fill knowledge gaps about the presence of Cyclospora in or on foods. In the area of prevention, the new action plan highlights how we’re addressing this food safety issue through the development and delivery of prevention-focused education materials and outreach to stakeholders. We’re also working with industry to encourage the development of rapid test kits to specifically detect Cyclospora to better facilitate industry testing and root cause analysis activities. In addition, we plan to collaborate with industry to look for ways to more effectively control Cyclospora in the environment and on farms.
In the area of response, the plan is focused on expanding laboratory capacity across the FDA, state, foreign partners and academia to sample and test for Cyclospora, providing greater capacity to investigate during outbreak events. The FDA is also developing a new investigational tool to help guide assessments of farms potentially implicated in a Cyclospora outbreak to determine potential sources and routes of contamination.
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