Keeping it cool: Survival of Giardia cysts and Cryptosporidium oocysts on lettuce leaves.Int J Food Microbiol. 2017 Aug 16; 255:51-57.IJ
Fresh produce has been recognized as a vehicle for transmission of protozoan parasites for many years, and there are numerous publications regarding their occurrence on such foodstuffs, indicating their potential importance as foodborne parasites. Nevertheless, few studies have been published regarding the effectiveness of this transmission route, and whether contamination is likely to result in transmission. The purpose of this study was to assess the viability of Cryptosporidium oocysts and Giardia cysts, two protozoa associated with both waterborne and foodborne transmission, by spiking fresh produce (lettuce leaves) with viable transmission stages and determining changes in viability. These investigations were performed under different conditions and over time spans that may be used in a regular household; a fridge at 4°C, under ambient temperatures exposed to natural cycles of light during night and day, and inside a cupboard to ensure no light exposure, for a duration of up to two weeks, or as long as the produce remained visually palatable. The major finding from this study is that whereas both Cryptosporidium oocysts and Giardia cysts survive well when kept moist and refrigerated, survival of Giardia cysts was abrogated on lettuce at room temperature. Indeed, almost 50% die-off of Giardia cysts was recorded within the first 24h. Cryptosporidium oocysts had a stable viability throughout the experiment under all the conditions investigated, indicating that fresh produce is a suitable transmission vehicle for Cryptosporidium, even if contamination occurs on-farm and the parasites are exposed to non-favourable storage conditions, as may be common in developing countries. Giardia cysts were not as robust as Cryptosporidium oocysts, and would be probably unlikely to survive under ambient storage conditions on-farm, during sale, or at home. However, if kept refrigerated, then some contaminating Giardia cysts may remain viable and therefore may pose a threat to the consumer. Thus, as the cold chain for transport and storage of fresh produce improves, it is important that similar improvements are implemented to reduce the contamination of fresh produce with parasite transmission stages.