2009-2010 - Bacterial Pathogens in Cantaloupes in the Canadian Market

Executive Summary

The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and strengthen Canada's food safety system to better protect Canadians from unsafe food and ultimately reduce the burden of foodborne illness. As part of the FSAP enhanced surveillance initiative, targeted surveys have been implemented to test priority hazards in various foods.

An increased number of foodborne disease outbreaks associated with fresh produce have been reported and recognized. The increase in outbreaks may be the result of several trends, including: improved disease surveillance, better detection methods for micro-organisms, increased fresh produce consumption and international trade. The complex nature of the micro-organisms identified in contaminated produce, combined with the fact that fresh produce is often consumed raw and not subjected to a kill step during processing further highlights the challenges associated with, and the need to improve, the microbial safety of fresh produce. For this reason, microbial contamination of fresh produce was one of the priorities identified by the Food Safety Science Committee in 2008. Cantaloupes continue to be a priority as one of the fresh produce commodities for the 2009-2010 FSAP targeted survey.

Cantaloupes have been identified as one of the five commodities which have contributed to increased produce-associated foodborne disease outbreaks from 1998-2006. Cantaloupes can be contaminated during their growth, harvesting, processing, transportation and/or preparation, if not handled properly. Once contaminated, cantaloupes are difficult to clean because of the rough netted surface of the melon which provides areas for bacterial attachment and protection from sanitization. In addition, fresh-cut Ready-to-Eat (RTE) cantaloupes are more perishable than intact cantaloupes, thus providing more optimal conditions for bacteria growth, if contaminated.

Taking into account these factors, cantaloupes have been selected for enhanced surveillance under FSAP with an overall objective to gather baseline information on the occurrence of bacterial pathogens of concern in cantaloupes available to Canadians at retail. This targeted survey was designed to gather information on the presence and distribution of:

  1. Salmonella spp. and Shigella spp. in imported and domestic whole cantaloupes; and
  2. Salmonella spp. and Shigella spp. in imported fresh-cut RTE cantaloupes.

In this survey a total of 1207 retail samples of cantaloupes were analysed, including 593 imported and 302 domestic whole cantaloupe samples, as well as 312 imported fresh-cut cantaloupe samples. These samples were analysed for the presence of bacterial pathogens Salmonella spp. and Shigella spp. Bacterial pathogens Salmonella spp. and Shigella spp. were not detected in any of the samples in this survey.

The sample size employed in this survey allows us to conclude that the prevalence of these pathogens in cantaloupes during this study was below 0.33% in whole cantaloupes (895 samples), and less than 0.95% in fresh-cut Ready-to-Eat cantaloupes (312 samples).

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