FDA Releases Cyclospora Prevention, Response and Research Action Plan

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As part of our 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 our 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 FDA first documented Cyclospora in domestically grown produce (cilantro) in 2018 as part of an ongoing sampling assignment of fresh herbs. The testing was done as part of a surveillance sampling, and the cilantro sample was not linked to any illnesses or outbreaks. Not long after, domestically grown produce was again associated with an outbreak linked to a salad mix. During the FDA’s investigations into this outbreak, Cyclospora was also detected in an unused package of the salad containing domestically grown produce.

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.