Fresh Express, a manufacturer of value-added leafy greens and fresh produce products, has released an interim report by its Blue-Ribbon Panel on the Prevention of Foodborne Cyclospora Outbreaks and the availability of the report to the fresh produce industry timed to the current growing season to help protect public health.
In the spring and summer of 2018, multiple Cyclospora outbreaks occurred in the United States that were linked to various fresh produce items and their suppliers, including Fresh Express, some of which were also potentially sourced to U.S.-grown fresh produce. To address the outbreak concerns, which typically occur seasonally, Fresh Express formed a Blue-Ribbon Panel comprised of scientists with deep expertise in the biology of the Cyclospora cayetanensis organism, food safety, outbreak response, and public health. The independent panel, chaired by infectious disease and food safety expert Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, was charged with studying the little-understood Cyclospora parasite and identifying controls to limit further outbreaks.
Osterholm is regents professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, a professor in the Technological Leadership Institute, College of Science and Engineering, and an adjunct professor in the Medical School, all at the University of Minnesota.
Following a November 18, 2018, meeting, the Blue-Ribbon Panel formed four distinct working groups focused on root-cause assessment, preventive controls, collaboration, and testing validation that met over several months to review existing information, research, and data points; form a more complete picture of the perplexing life cycle of the parasite, its dependence on human hosts, factors affecting its infectivity, potential modes of transmission; and make recommendations for mitigation against contamination and future outbreaks.
The interim report contains the preliminary findings, recommendations, and ongoing priorities of the four working groups to more effectively curtail Cyclospora outbreaks going forward. The report also contains a fact sheet about Cyclospora cayetanensis that outlines the illness and symptoms, testing methods, ways for growers, harvesters and handlers to reduce potential risk of contamination, and useful resources. The fact sheet can be printed, reproduced, and shared.
The interim report also contains the full roster of those contributing to the comprehensive effort.
According to Osterholm, “This is an exceptional collaboration by those most knowledgeable about a particular food safety risk. Their value in shedding light on the Cyclospora cayetanensis outbreak problem cannot be overstated and is already providing long-needed assistance toward discovering how best to manage risk and limit future outbreaks.”
The full interim report and fact sheet are available at www.FreshExpress.com and as through fresh produce industry trade associations such as the Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association.
Osterholm also served as a science envoy for Health Security on behalf of the U.S. Department of State from June 2018 through May 2019. He is the author of the 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, in which he not only details the most pressing infectious disease threats of our day but lays out a nine-point strategy on how to address them, with preventing a global flu pandemic at the top of the list. He is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and honors and has authored more than 315 professional papers and abstracts.