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2013-2014 Cyclospora Cayetanensis and Cryptosporidium spp. in Fresh Leafy Herbs and Green Onions


Targeted surveys are used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to focus its surveillance activities on areas of highest health risk. The information gained from these surveys provides both support for the prioritization of the Agency's activities to areas of greater concern, and scientific evidence to address areas of lesser concern. Originally started under the Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP), targeted surveys have been incorporated into the CFIA's regular surveillance activities as a valuable tool for generating information on certain hazards in foods, identifying/characterizing new and emerging hazards, informing trend analysis, prompting/refining health risk assessments, highlighting potential contamination issues, as well as assessing and promoting compliance with Canadian regulations.

Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium are protozoan parasites which infect humans, primarily through contaminated food and water. Cyclospora is endemic in a number of subtropical and tropical countries. Cryptosporidium infection can be found in people worldwide. Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium infections can cause mild to severe gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms including, but not limited to, diarrhoea, weight loss, cramping, flatulence, nausea, fatigue and low grade fever.

Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium were ranked 13th and 5th, respectively, out of 24 parasites in overall global ranking for their 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). Produce such as fresh herbs and green onions have been identified in the past as sources of Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium contaminationin Canada. This survey focussed on fresh leafy herbs and green onions.

The objective of this survey was to determine the occurrence and distribution of Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium contamination in fresh produce such as fresh leafy herbs and green onions. A total of 1116 samples were analyzed for the presence of Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium. Samples were collected at retail from various regions across Canada between April 2013 and March 2014. None of the samples were positive for either Cyclospora or Cryptosporidium.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency provides regulatory oversight of the food industry, works with provinces and territories, and promotes safe handling of foods throughout the food production chain. However, it is important to note that 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 of the food they have in their possession. Moreover, general advice for the consumer on the safe handling of foods is widely available. The CFIA will continue its surveillance activities and inform stakeholders of its findings.

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