2010-2011 Cyclospora cayentanensis in Imported Fresh Herbs and Berries

Executive Summary

The Food Safety Action Plan aims to modernize and enhance Canada's food safety system in order to better protect Canadians from unsafe food and ultimately reduce the occurrence of foodborne illness.

Cyclopsora cayentanensis is a protozoan parasite which infects humans, primarily through contaminated food and water and is endemic in a number of subtropical and tropical countries. C. cayentanensis infection can cause mild to severe gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms (cyclosporosis) including, but not limited to, diarrhoea, weight loss, cramping, flatulence, nausea, fatigue and low grade fever.

C. cayentanensis was ranked 13th out of 24 parasites in overall global ranking for its public health importance by a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) expert committee (September 3 to 7, 2012). Fresh herbs and berries have been identified in the past as sources of C. cayentanensis contamination in Canada. This survey focussed only on imported fresh herbs and berries since Canada imports many of these commodity types from tropical and subtropical countries.

The objective of this survey was to determine the occurrence and distribution of C. cayentanensis contamination in imported fresh herbs and berries. A total of 513 samples of imported fresh herbs and 553 samples of imported fresh berries were collected at retail from various regions across Canada between May 2010 and March 2011. Samples included basil, chives, cilantro, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme, as well as, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries and strawberries.

One parsley sample from the United States was positive for C. cayentanensis, however, the analytical method used to detect the parasite in the sample cannot determine if the parasite is viable and potentially infectious. Positive results are followed up by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). In this case because of the perishable nature of the products and the time elapsed between sample pick up and the completion of analysis the fresh product was no longer available on the market when the parasite was detected. As such, no direct follow up was possible for this lot. This information was used to inform CFIA's programs and inspection activities. It is important to note that there were no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of the product found to be positive for C. cayentanensis.

The food industry and retail sectors in Canada are ultimately responsible for the food they produce and sell, while individual consumers are responsible for the safe handling and preparation of the food in their possession. The CFIA as well as other jurisdictions such as provincial and municipal regulators, monitor various controls throughout the food production chains. Moreover, general advice for the consumer on the safe handling and preparation of foods is widely available. The CFIA will continue its surveillance activities and inform stakeholders of its findings.

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