U.S – The National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) subcommittee has released a report underscoring the imperative need for a radical departure from the conventional hazard-based approach to managing parasites in the food supply chain.

The subcommittee’s report, a culmination of a two-year extensive research and analysis, asserts that the time has come to embrace a risk-based approach when dealing with parasites in our food.

Traditionally, the food industry has relied on hazard-based methods, focusing on identifying and eliminating specific hazards.

However, titled “Response to questions posed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Cyclospora cayetanensis in Produce”, the report argues that a more nuanced and dynamic strategy is required—one that centers on understanding and managing the overall risk associated with these microscopic threats.

The call for a risk-based approach signifies a departure from the reactive nature of hazard-based methodologies.

Instead of merely targeting known hazards, the proposed strategy involves a comprehensive evaluation of the entire process, from production to consumption. This shift acknowledges that risks may evolve and emerge dynamically, requiring a more adaptive and proactive response to ensure food safety.

Subcommittee’s scientific rationale

The subcommittee’s stance is grounded in scientific rationale, emphasizing the need for a holistic perspective on managing parasites in the food chain.

By adopting a risk-based approach, food safety measures can be customized and optimized based on the likelihood and severity of potential risks.

This approach not only enhances the efficacy of preventive measures but also enables more efficient resource allocation in tackling the most significant threats.

A pivotal revelation from the Committee’s research is the inadequacy of current testing procedures in differentiating between Cyclospora species causing human illness and others.

Citing alarming reports of a 90% false-positive rate in common tests, the committee underscores the urgent need for a reliable and replicable testing procedure to accurately identify Cyclospora in both environmental samples and food products.

Resistance to chemical interventions

Additionally, the report sheds light on the resistance of the pathogen C. cayetanensis to common chemical interventions, paving the way for potential innovations in antimicrobial or chemical approaches within the industry.

This opens new avenues for research and development aimed at creating effective strategies to manage the parasite’s presence in food.

Human-centric contamination focus

The report also underscores that Cyclospora is exclusively carried by humans, with individuals who recently traveled to highly prevalent areas being the primary source of contamination throughout the production chain.

To mitigate risks, the Committee emphasizes the importance of stringent hygienic practices, worker training, and the presence of necessary infrastructure, including well-managed toilet facilities and appropriate protective gear.

Highlighting the public health dimension, the report urges collaboration between industry stakeholders and public health agencies.

Natalie Dyenson, Chief Food Safety Officer at the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA), stresses the importance of federal funding and engagement from public health agencies to bridge knowledge gaps and effectively manage Cyclospora as a public health concern.

Chaired by Dr. Max Teplitski from IFPA, the Cyclospora subcommittee included representatives from Western Growers Association, Organic Trade Association, and various academic, industry, and federal scientists.

While addressing 16 questions from the FDA, the subcommittee discovered significant gaps in identifying Cyclospora in the food system. Dr. Teplitski affirms the industry’s commitment to collaborating with regulatory bodies and applying newfound science to improve safety standards.

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