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Blue-Ribbon Panel of Third-party Experts Announced to Help Produce Industry Understand and Solve Problem of Seasonal Cyclospora Illness Outbreaks


Blue-Ribbon Panel of Third-party Experts Announced to Help Produce Industry Understand and Solve Problem of Seasonal Cyclospora Illness Outbreaks

PR Newswire

ORLANDO, Fla., Aug. 21, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- John P. Olivo, President, Fresh Express, today announced the formation of a Fresh Express Blue-Ribbon Panel to be chaired by world-renowned epidemiologist and infectious disease expert Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, to study the Cyclospora parasite, a cause of recent multiple fresh produce illness outbreaks in the US.

Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, Director, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP)

"Recent Cyclospora outbreaks, with limited evidence as to how they originated, have perplexed federal and state public health officials as well as food safety experts throughout the fresh produce industry, including Fresh Express," Olivo said.  "The purpose of the Fresh Express Blue-Ribbon Panel is to assemble an interdisciplinary group of independent scientific experts to better understand Cyclospora's mode of action and how the industry can better guard against future outbreaks."

According to Dr. Osterholm, who will lead the group of experts as Chair, the Panel will also provide a focused work group available to provide collaboration and support to investigators at the US Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health agencies, who are charged with understanding and solving the outbreaks.  "The Cyclospora organism has contaminated certain fresh produce during spring and summer months, leaving public health officials unable to determine a confirmed origin despite their best efforts," Osterholm stated.  "Although the fresh produce industry works hard to ensure strong food safety standards, the yearly rounds of Cyclospora outbreaks now demand industry-focused attention."

The Fresh Express Blue-Ribbon Panel aims to address questions regarding the Cyclospora parasite's mode of transfer to fresh produce, seasonal or supply chain concerns and potential targeted mitigation strategies.

Although rarely life-threatening, Cyclospora is a single-cell parasite with a life cycle that involves a human host and that causes symptoms such as watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever and fatigue in those who become infected.  Cyclospora outbreaks have consistently appeared every spring and summer for years causing countless illnesses.

This summer (2018), the US has seen several Cyclospora clusters.  However, despite intensive investigation, public health agencies have not yet been able to conclusively identify a confirmed origin for the outbreaks or to understand contamination pathways.

According to Fresh Express, the full roster of Panel members will be announced soon with a final report and recommendations planned for release in Quarter 1, 2019.  Fresh Express stressed the importance of the collaborative nature of the Panel's work, involving scientists, academic researchers, produce industry food safety experts and public health officials from around the world.

"The multiple recent Cyclospora outbreaks in the produce industry and their health consequences for consumers have gone too long without adequate explanation," said Olivo, "and it's time to focus on finding some answers."

About Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH

Dr. 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.

From June 2018 through May 2019 he is serving as a Science Envoy for Health Security on behalf of the US Department of State. 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.

Dr. Osterholm is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and honors and has authored more than 315 professional papers and abstracts.

About Fresh Express

Fresh Express is a leader in fresh produce foods and is dedicated to providing consumers with healthy, value-added salads, leafy greens, Cole slaw, juicing greens and more.  Fresh Express is also a leader in food safety, recognized for its comprehensive approach throughout the supply chain.  Fresh Express is a past recipient of the prestigious award for Corporate Excellence in Food Safety from the International Association for Food Protection.


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