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, diarrhea, 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 berries have been identified in the past as sources of Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium contamination in Canada. This survey focused on fresh herbs, berries, green onions and mushrooms.
The objective of this survey was to determine the occurrence and distribution of Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium contamination in fresh produce such as herbs, berries, mushrooms and green onions. A total of 1,590 samples were analyzed for the presence of Cyclospora and 1,788 samples were analyzed for Cryptosporidium. Samples were collected at retail from various regions across Canada between May 2011 and March 2013.
Of the samples analyzed for Cyclospora, none were positive for the parasite. Of the samples analyzed for Cryptosporidium, six samples of green onions, one sample of parsley, and one sample of mushroom were positive, however, the analytical method used to detect the parasites in the samples cannot determine if the parasite is viable and potentially infectious. It is important to note that there were no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of the products found to be positive for Cryptosporidium. 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. This information was used to inform CFIA’s programs and inspection activities.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulates and provides oversight to the 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.