2012-2014 Bacterial Pathogens in Sprouts

Executive Summary

Sprouts, such as mung bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts, have been responsible for numerous outbreaks of foodborne illnesses around the world over the years. Contamination in sprouts often originates from their seeds, which are agricultural products. The sprouting process requires warm and humid conditions that are ideal for the proliferation of bacterial pathogens. Since sprouts are often consumed raw or lightly cooked, the presence of pathogens in sprouts can cause foodborne illnesses.

Considering the factors mentioned above and their relevance to Canadians, sprouts were selected for targeted surveys. Over the course of this study (April 1, 2012 to October 31, 2014), a total of 3221 samples of bean sprouts and seed sprouts were collected from retail locations in 11 cities across Canada and tested for bacterial pathogens of concern: Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7, as well as generic E. coli. Generic E. coli is an indicator of the overall sanitation conditions throughout the food production chain. A subset (925) of these 3221 samples was also tested for non-O157 Verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC).

Salmonella was found in three (0.09%) samples. E. coli O157:H7 was not found in any samples, however six (0.65%) samples were found to contain non-O157 VTEC of which none were priority non-O157 VTEC (O26, O103, O111, O117, O121, and O145). Priority non-O157 VTEC are those serotypes that have been identified as causing the majority of non-O157 VTEC infections in Canada. Generic E. coli at levels of >1000 Most Probable Number (MPN)/g were found in 17 (0.53%) samples. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted appropriate follow-up activities for the Salmonella contaminated samples resulting in product recalls and/or the implementation of corrective actions by the processing facilities. No reported illnesses were in association with any of the Salmonella positive samples.

The results indicate that Salmonella contamination can sporadically occur in sprouts. In addition, the majority of the products sampled appear to have been processed under good agricultural and manufacturing practices, as there were very few occurrences of high levels of generic E. coli (>1000 MPN/g).

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