( FDA and CDC )

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are working to identify data gaps and research needs to develop improved tools to detect, prevent, and control Cyclospora contamination of food.

Frank Yiannas, deputy commissioner for food policy and response for the FDA, and Monica Parise, director of the division of parasitic diseases and malaria for the CDC, detailed the agencies’ efforts in a news release on the FDA website.

Cyclospora cayetanensis is a parasite that has caused multistate outbreaks of foodborne illness in recent years, according to the agencies.

The release said there were nearly 3,000 reported cases of cyclosporiasis in 2018 (including both travel-associated and domestically-acquired cases), according to CDC estimates. However, authorities believe many more cases may go unreported. The release said that in 2018, an outbreak tied to salads sold in a quick-service restaurant chain (McDonald’s) made more than 500 people sick in 15 states; another associated with prepackaged vegetable trays made 250 people ill in four states.

Outbreaks of cyclosporiasis, according to the release, have been reported in the U.S. since the mid-1990s and linked to various types of imported fresh produce, including raspberries, basil, snow peas, mesclun, and cilantro. Last year, however, was the first time Cyclospora was confirmed in domestic produce, according to the release.

Blue ribbon report

In early June, representatives of the FDA, CDC, industry and academia participated in a scientific workshop to discuss gaps in detection methods and plans for the development of tools that will help keep this parasite out of food, before and after harvest. The workshop was hosted by the FDA’s Office of Applied Research and Safety Assessment and the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, established by the FDA and the University of Maryland.

The FDA and CDC have also provided technical assistance to working groups associated with a panel established by Fresh Express in 2018. On June 5, the panel released an interim report on next steps for prevention, response and collaboration.

“Together, the FDA and CDC are committed to protecting Americans from Cyclospora and other organisms that can make them sick,” Yiannas and Parise said in the release. “Both agencies will continue to use all the tools they have available, from new detection techniques to DNA fingerprinting tools to enforcement tools like import alerts, to prevent cyclosporiasis illnesses in the United States.”