2012-2013 Salmonella, Shigella and Generic E. coli in Cantaloupes

Executive Summary

The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and strengthen Canada's food safety system in order to better protect Canadians from unsafe food and ultimately reduce the occurrence of foodborne illness.

Cantaloupes have been associated with numerous outbreaks of foodborne illness worldwide. In recent years, increased surveillance activities have also triggered several non-outbreak associated recalls of cantaloupes in the United States (U.S.) and Canada. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) has ranked melons, including cantaloupes, as the second highest priority group of concern in terms of microbiological hazards among fresh fruits and vegetables. Cantaloupes can become contaminated with pathogens during production, harvest, post-harvest handling, processing and distribution. Once contaminated, the bacteria can be difficult to remove because the rough netted surface of the melon provides areas for bacteria to attach and be protected from sanitization. As cantaloupes are consumed raw, the presence of pathogens creates a potential risk for foodborne illnesses. The bacterial pathogen Salmonella is the most commonly identified pathogen in cantaloupe-associated outbreaks of foodborne illness.

Considering the factors mentioned above and their relevance to Canadians, cantaloupes have been selected as one of the priority commodity groups of fresh fruits and vegetables for enhanced surveillance under the FSAP. Over the course of a five-year baseline study (2008/09 to 2012/13), approximately 3,500 cantaloupe samples were collected from Canadian retail locations and tested for bacterial pathogens of concern.

The main objective of this targeted survey (2012/13) was to generate baseline surveillance data on the presence and distribution of bacterial pathogens Salmonella and Shigella, as well as on generic Escherichia coli (E. coli, an indicator of fecal contamination) in cantaloupes. A total of 867 cantaloupe samples, including 715 imported and 152 domestically produced whole cantaloupes were analyzed. Salmonella and Shigella were not detected in any of the samples, and levels of generic E. coli were found to be acceptable in all samples. All samples (100%) were assessed as satisfactory. These results suggest that the cantaloupes in the Canadian market sampled during this survey were produced under Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs).

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulates and provides oversight to the industry, works with provinces and territories, and promotes safe handling of foods throughout the food production chain. However, it is important to note that the food industry and retail sectors in Canada are ultimately responsible for the food they produce and sell, while individual consumers are responsible for the safe handling of the food they have in their possession. In addition, general advice for the consumer on the safe handling of foods is widely available. The CFIA will continue its surveillance activities and inform stakeholders of its findings.

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