2014-2016 Bacterial Pathogens in Soy Products


The demand for soy products has been growing in Canada and around the world due to the health benefits associated with their consumption. However, there are few guidelines regulating the soy food industry. A few reported foodborne illness outbreaks associated with soy products have been reported worldwide in the past 30 years. Soy products, such as tofu and compressed tofu, are highly perishable ready-to-eat (RTE) foods. Since these products are often consumed as-is or lightly cooked, the presence of pathogens can cause foodborne illnesses.

Considering the factors mentioned above and their relevance to Canadians, soy products were selected for targeted surveys. The purpose of the survey was to generate baseline information on the occurrence of bacterial pathogens in soy products. Over the course of two fiscal years (April 1, 2013 to March 31, 2014, and April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016), a total of 3157 samples of soy products were collected from retail locations in 11 cities across Canada and tested for bacterial pathogens of concern: Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes), and Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), as well as generic Escherichia coli (E. coli). Generic E. coli is an indicator organism which is used to assess the overall sanitation conditions under which the soy products were produced.

All samples (100%) of soy products including fresh tofu, compressed tofu, soy-based meat analogues, tempeh and soy paste, were found to be safe for consumption, as Salmonella and L. monocytogenes were not found in any samples, and levels of S. aureus were below 100 colony forming unit (CFU)/g in all samples tested for. Samples where the level of S. aureus is below 100 CFU/g are considered to have been produced under sanitary conditions and are safe for consumption. Elevated levels (100 to 1000 most probable number (MPN)/g) and high levels (>1000 MPN/g) of generic E. coli were found in three and one compressed tofu samples, respectively. As these samples were processed, pre-packaged RTE foods, the results indicate the possibility of inadequate sanitation controls of the processing facility. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted appropriate follow-up activities including follow-up sampling and facility inspections. No product recalls were issued as follow-up sampling yielded satisfactory test results in two cases, and in the other two cases samples were no longer available on the market as the products were at the end of their shelf life. Improvements were recommended to the facilities regarding their sanitation controls.

The results indicate that almost all of the soy products appear to have been produced under Good Manufacturing Practices, as there were very few occurrences of high levels of generic E. coli.

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