2011-2012 Bacterial Pathogens in Sprout Seeds and in Sprouts

Executive Summary

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

Sprouts have been reported to be responsible for numerous outbreaks of foodborne illness around the world. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) has ranked sprouts as a high priority in terms of microbiological hazards among fresh fruits and vegetables. Contamination in sprouts often originates from the seeds. Growers are not always aware that the seeds they produce will be used for human consumption, and may therefore not be as diligent in preventing contamination during production. The sprouting process requires warm and humid conditions that are ideal for the proliferation of bacterial pathogens that could be present on or in the seeds. The presence of pathogens in sprouts creates a potential risk for foodborne illness as sprouts are usually consumed raw or lightly cooked. Salmonella and Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157 have been identified as the primary bacterial pathogens of concern in sprouts and their seeds.

Considering the above factors and their relevance to Canadians, sprouts, including seeds for sprouting, have been selected as one of the priority commodity for enhanced surveillance under the FSAP. Over the course of this baseline study (2011/12 to 2014/15), approximately 4,000 sprout and sprout seed samples will be collected from retail locations and tested for the presence of various pathogens of concern. The main objectives of this targeted survey (2011/12) were to generate baseline surveillance data on the bacterial pathogens Salmonella and E. coli O157 in sprout seeds as well as the priority verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) O157, O26, O111, O103 and O145 in sprouts available in the Canadian market. A total of 419 samples of sprout seeds and 264 samples of sprouted seeds (i.e. sprouts) were collected at retail during this survey. E. coli O157 was not detected in any of the sprout seed samples while Salmonella was detected in one sample (0.2%). The Salmonella positive result triggered appropriate follow-up procedures including the recall of the affected product. ┬áNone of the priority VTECs tested for were detected in the sprout samples analysed during this survey. These results suggest that the sprout seeds and sprouts sampled during this survey were generally 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. Moreover, 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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