2012-2014 Bacterial Pathogens and Generic E. coli in Fresh-cut Fruits

Executive Summary

Targeted surveys are used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to focus its surveillance activities on areas of highest risk. The information gained from these surveys provides both support for the prioritization of the Agency's activities to areas of greater concern and scientific evidence to address areas of lesser concern. Originally started under the Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP), targeted surveys have been incorporated into the CFIA's regular surveillance activities as a valuable tool for generating essential information on certain hazards in foods, identifying/characterizing new and emerging hazards, informing trend analysis, prompting/refining human health risk assessments, highlighting potential contamination issues as well as assessing and promoting compliance with Canadian regulations.

In recent years, fresh fruits have been promoted as part of a healthy diet and as a result the consumption of ready-to-eat (RTE) fresh-cut fruits has increased in Canada and around the world. Occasionally fresh-cut fruits can be contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes), and cause foodborne illnesses. Contamination can occur at any point along the production chain from the growing field to the finished fresh-cut products. Sources of contamination of fresh-cut fruits can be from contaminated intact fruits, washing water, processing equipment, and packaging containers. The release of fluids from fresh-cut fruits can provide a nutritive medium that promotes the growth of bacteria. Inappropriate temperatures during preparation, distribution and/or storage can encourage the growth of bacteria on fresh-cut fruits. The absence of a further "kill" step in the production of fresh-cut fruits to eliminate potential bacterial pathogens increases the potential risk for foodborne illnesses as these products are eaten raw.

Considering the factors mentioned above and their relevance to Canadians, fresh-cut fruits have been selected for enhanced surveillance. Over the course of a four-year baseline study (2012/13 - 2015/16), approximately 5,000 fresh-cut fruit samples will be collected from Canadian retail locations and tested for bacterial pathogens of concern.

The main objective of the 2012/13 and 2013/14 surveys were to generate baseline surveillance data on the presence and distribution of bacterial pathogens Salmonella, Shigella, Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7/NM (non-motile), and L. monocytogenes, as well as on generic E. coli, an indicator of fecal contamination, in fresh-cut fruits in the Canadian retail market. A total of 2068 fresh-cut fruit samples were collected and tested for the targeted bacteria. The survey results indicate that a majority of the samples were assessed as satisfactory (99.37%). Salmonella, Shigella, and E. coli O157:H7/NM were not detected in any of the samples. L. monocytogenes was found in ten samples (0.48%), at levels below 10 Colony Forming Units (CFU)/g except in one sample where the levels exceeded the food safety criteria limit of 100 CFU/g. The CFIA conducted appropriate follow-up activities for the L. monocytogenes positive products, including directed sampling and inspection of the processing facilities. No recalls were deemed necessary for the affected products. It is important to note that there were no reported illnesses associated with the contaminated products identified during these surveys. In addition, elevated, yet marginally acceptable levels (100 -1,000 CFU/g) of generic E. coli were found in three samples (0.15%). Further evaluation of these samples resulted in no immediate follow-up activities. Generic E. coli is an indicator used by the CFIA to assess general sanitation and hygiene throughout the production chain. These results suggest that the vast majority of fresh-cut fruits in the Canadian market sampled during these surveys were produced under Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs). Sporadically, L. monocytogenes contamination in fresh-cut fruits can occur.

The CFIA provides regulatory oversight of 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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