2010-2011 - Salmonella in Cantaloupes

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.

Cantaloupes have been reported to be responsible for numerous outbreaks of foodborne illness worldwide. Increased surveillance activities have also triggered several non-outbreak associated recalls of cantaloupes in the United States (U.S.) and Canada in recent years. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) has ranked melons, including cantaloupes, as the second highest priority group of concern in terms of microbiological hazards among fresh fruits and vegetables. Cantaloupes can become contaminated with pathogens in production, harvest, post-harvest handling, processing and distribution. Once contaminated, cantaloupes are difficult to clean because the rough netted surface of the melon provides areas for bacteria to attach and be protected from sanitization. The presence of pathogens in cantaloupes creates a potential risk for foodborne illnesses as cantaloupes are consumed raw. The bacterial pathogen Salmonella is the most commonly identified pathogen in cantaloupe-associated outbreaks of foodborne disease and in recalled cantaloupes in the U.S. and Canada in recent years.

Considering these factors and their relevance to Canadians, cantaloupes have been selected as one of the priority commodity groups of fresh fruits and vegetables for enhanced surveillance under the FSAP.

Between 2008/09 and 2012/13, over 3,500 cantaloupe samples were collected from Canadian retail locations and tested for the presence of bacterial pathogens of concern. This targeted survey (2010/11) focussed on pathogenic bacteria Salmonella species (spp.). The main objective of this survey was to generate baseline surveillance data on the presence and distribution of bacterial pathogen of concern Salmonella spp. in imported and domestically produced cantaloupes.

In this survey, a total of 499 whole cantaloupe samples were collected and analysed; 385 were imported and 114 were domestically produced. Salmonella was not detected in 99.8% of the samples. One sample (1/499, 0.2%) was found to be unsatisfactory due to the presence of Salmonella spp. The CFIA initiated a food safety investigation and appropriate follow-up activities upon receiving this unsatisfactory result. To assist in the food safety investigation, the serotype and DNA fingerprint (pulsed field gel electrophoresis, PFGE pattern) of the isolate from the Salmonella positive sample were identified. A product recall resulted from the positive sample and investigation. However, it is important to note that there were no reported illnesses associated with consumption of any of the products sampled during this survey.

Results of the 2010/11 survey indicate that the vast majority of the cantaloupes tested were not contaminated with Salmonella. However, the results also indicate that contamination of cantaloupes with pathogenic bacteria can occur. These findings suggest that cantaloupes available in the Canadian market are typically produced under Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), and are safe for consumption. On rare occasions, improper handling may lead to contamination with Salmonella, which could represent a food safety risk. Results of the two remaining microbiological targeted surveys on cantaloupes will be released annually upon completion.

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