2014-2016 Bacterial Pathogens in Fresh-Cut Ready-To-Eat Fruits

Summary

In recent years, the availability of pre-packaged, fresh-cut, ready-to-eat (RTE) fruits has increased to meet consumers' demand for convenient and healthy foods. Unfortunately, fresh fruits, including fresh-cut fruits, have been associated with numerous recalls and several outbreaks of foodborne illnesses worldwide.

Fresh fruits can become contaminated with pathogens during production, harvest, post-harvest handling, processing, packaging and distribution. The additional processing steps that fresh-cut fruits undergo such as cutting, slicing, peeling and shredding remove or damage their protective surfaces, provide a favourable environment (i.e., increased availability of nutrients, higher water activity) for any micro-organisms that may be present on the surface to multiply. Since pre-packaged, fresh-cut RTE fruits are expected to be consumed raw without further preparation, the presence of bacterial pathogens creates a potential risk for foodborne illnesses.

Considering the factors mentioned above and their relevance to Canadians, pre-packaged, fresh-cut, RTE fruits were selected for targeted surveys. The purpose of targeted surveys is to generate baseline information on the occurrence and distribution of pathogenic bacteria in food. Over the course of this study (April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2016), a total of 2621 samples were collected from retail locations in 11 cities across Canada and tested for bacterial pathogens of concern (Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Shigella, and Escherichia coli O157:H7 (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.

Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli O157:H7 and high levels of generic E. coli (>1000 Most Probable Number (MPN)/g) were not found in any samples. Listeria monocytogenes was found in 14 (0.53%) samples and an elevated level of generic E. coli (350 MPN/g) was found in one sample (0.04%).

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted appropriate follow-up activities such as facility inspections and additional sampling. One Listeria monocytogenes positive fresh-cut apple sample resulted in a recall due to a possible link to a human illness case and also because it had been distributed to a high risk population group1 (e.g., immunocompromised, elderly, pregnant, etc.). In all other cases, due to the perishable nature of the products the implicated products were no longer available on the market when the pathogen was detected, and consequently no direct product action was possible. In most cases, however, corrective actions were implemented by the processing facilities.

Overall, our survey results suggest that almost all pre-packaged, fresh-cut, RTE fruits are safe for consumption. Regardless, pre-packaged, fresh-cut, RTE fruits are a known potential source of foodborne illness and as such, safe handling practices are recommended for producers, retailers and consumers.

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