Federal health officials indicate new technology used to trace spread of food-borne infections was crucial in tracking a recent cyclospora outbreak, which caused nearly 700 illnesses among consumers who ate bagged salad products, highlighting the important role the new methods may have in helping minimize future outbreaks.
A series of new scientific methods and technologies were used in the outbreak to identify the source of the infections, discovering parasites in the produce and agricultural water, according the federal regulators.
In conjunction with the FDA, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the first Cyclospora outbreak advisory on June 19, following at least 76 laboratory-confirmed infections from individuals in 6 states.
By June 23, the agencies had collaborated with state and local health departments, performing new methods of epidemiologic and trace back investigations to determine the likely source of the contamination was iceberg lettuce from California or red cabbage from Florida.
As a result of this identification, officials collected environmental samples from suspected growing regions which corresponded with consumer food consumption reports. Nearby canals of suspected farms in Florida and California were then tested for the presence of Cyclospora.
According to the investigation, 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.
Following the positive identification, officials were able to trace the potentially impacted products through the farms’ supply chain, resulting in the Fresh Express recall of all salad products that contain iceberg lettuce, red cabbage, and/or carrots produced at the Streamwood, Illinois facility and sold under the store brand labels ALDI Little Salad Bar, Giant Eagle, Hy-Vee, Jewel-Osco Signature Farms, ShopRite Wholesome Pantry, and Walmart Marketside.
To date, a total of 690 cases of Cyclospora have been reported across 13 states, resulting in 37 hospitalizations, according to the CDC.
Although hundreds of individuals were impacted by the outbreak, the agency indicates the spread of the infection could have been worse if not for the early detection, highlighting the importance of managing the quality of irrigation water used to grow ready to eat crops.
FDA officials are currently developing a proposal anticipated by the end of 2020, which will revise certain agricultural water requirements in the Produce Safety Rule. The proposal outlines advanced detection techniques that will help identify sources of Cyclospora so they can be addressed with proper water treatments.
Cyclospora cayetanensis is a single celled parasite, which results in severe intestinal infections that can be spread through human waste and can lead to 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.
While Cyclospora rarely leads to death, the infection can last for several days to a few months, often recurring after the patient seems better.