ABSTRACT

Berries are potential vehicles for the transmission of parasites and have been implicated in illness outbreaks in various countries around the world, particularly in the United States. Although data on contamination of fresh produce with foodborne parasites have been obtained from various global regions, data from Colombia are lacking even though South American countries are major producers of fresh produce, which is both consumed nationally and exported. In this study, we used a previously published multiplex quantitative PCR approach to investigate contamination of strawberries purchased in either supermarkets or local markets in 20 localities. Strawberries were washed in a detergent solution after purchase, and the eluate was concentrated and sent to Norway for molecular analysis. Of the 120 strawberry samples analyzed, wash eluate from 6 samples (5%) tested positive for Toxoplasma gondii DNA, and 1 sample (0.83%) was positive for Cyclospora cayetanensis DNA. These results indicate that strawberries for sale in Bogotá, Colombia, may be contaminated with T. gondii and C. cayetanensis and, therefore, could act as transmission vehicles for these parasites. These data also indicate that cat and human fecal contamination of the strawberries has occurred at some point in their production, transportation, or storage. These findings highlight the need for a hazard analysis critical control point investigation of the strawberry production chain and implementation of measures to reduce the risk of strawberry contamination, thereby minimizing the risk of transmission of parasitic infection via these fruits, which are usually consumed raw.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Strawberries from Colombia were evaluated for contamination with parasites.

  • Multiplex qPCR revealed Toxoplasma (5% of samples) and Cyclospora (<1% of samples).

  • A food safety investigation should be conducted to identify possible interventions.

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