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Bacterial Pathogens and Indicators, Viruses and Parasites in Various Food Commodities – April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2020

Food microbiology – Targeted surveys – Interim report

Summary

Targeted surveys provide information on potential food hazards and enhance the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA's) routine monitoring programs. These surveys provide evidence regarding the safety of the food supply, identify potential emerging hazards, and contribute new information and data to food categories where it may be limited or non-existent. They are often used by the agency to focus surveillance on potential areas of higher risk. Surveys can also help to identify trends and provide information about how industry complies with Canadian regulations.

While the food we eat in Canada is among the safest in the world, the consumption of food contaminated with foodborne pathogens (bacteria, viruses and parasites) can cause foodborne illness. It has been estimated that approximately 4 million (1 in 8) Canadians are affected by foodborne illnesses each year.

Targeted surveys are 1 of several surveillance activities that the CFIA conducts on the Canadian food supply. The purpose of targeted surveys is to generate baseline information on the occurrence of pathogens in food. Targeted surveys can vary in duration from several months to several years depending on the objective of each survey.

The food commodities included in this report are commonly consumed by Canadians across various age groups. Unfortunately, most of these types of foods have been associated with recalls and outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. There are numerous points in the food production chain where contamination with pathogens can occur such as during production, processing, packaging and distribution. Given that most of the commodities covered by this report are consumed without further preparation, the presence of pathogens creates a potential risk for foodborne illnesses.

The purpose of this interim report is to provide preliminary results related to on-going surveys that the CFIA is currently conducting on the following commodities:

From April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2020, 21,626 samples of the above listed commodities were collected from retail locations in 11 cities across Canada and tested for various pathogens and indicator organisms. Interim results show that almost all (98.2%, 21,230/21,626) of the samples were assessed as satisfactory, while 1.7% (374/21,626) were assessed as investigative and 0.1% (20/21,626) were assessed as unsatisfactory. Most of the surveys covered in this report have a >95% satisfactory rate to date, with the only exceptions being:

CFIA conducted appropriate follow-up activities for samples that were assessed as investigative or unsatisfactory. These follow-up activities may have included additional facility inspections, product recalls and additional sampling. There have been no reported illnesses linked to the contaminated products.

It is important to note that all results reported herein are considered preliminary, as the targeted surveys are still ongoing. Final reports, which will include a detailed analysis of the targeted survey results, will be shared over the next few years as the surveys are completed.

What are targeted surveys

Targeted surveys are used by the CFIA to focus its surveillance activities on areas of highest health risk. The information gained from these surveys provides support for the allocation and prioritization of the Agency's activities to areas of greater concern. Targeted surveys are a valuable tool for generating information on certain hazards in foods, identifying and characterizing new and emerging hazards, informing trend analysis, prompting and refining health risk assessments, highlighting potential contamination issues, as well as assessing and promoting compliance with Canadian regulations.

Food safety is a shared responsibility. The CFIA works with federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments and provides regulatory oversight of the food industry to promote safe handling of foods throughout the food production chain. The food industry and retail sectors in Canada are responsible for the food they produce and sell, while individual consumers are responsible for the safe handling of the food they have in their possession.

What is an interim report

Targeted surveys can vary in duration from several months to several years depending on the objective of each survey. The purpose of this interim report is to provide preliminary results related to on-going surveys that the CFIA is currently conducting.

Will the CFIA publish final reports

Yes, upon conclusion of the surveys, final reports will be made publically available on the CFIA website.

What foods were tested and why

A variety of foods of each of the following commodities were selected for targeted surveys to gather baseline information on the occurrence of pathogens (bacteria, viruses and parasites):

The selected foods are all commonly consumed by Canadians of all agesFootnote 1. Unfortunately, most of these commodities have been associated with recalls and outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, as they can become contaminated with pathogens during various points in the food production process (production, processing, packaging, distribution). Given that most of the commodities covered by this report are consumed without further preparation, the presence of pathogens creates a potential risk for foodborne illnesses.

When and from where did we sample

A sample consisted of a single or multiple unit(s) (individual consumer-size package(s)) from a single lot with a total weight of at least 250 g. All samples were collected from national retail chains and local/regional grocery stores located in 11 major cities across Canada. The number of samples collected from these cities was in proportion to the relative population of the respective areas. These cities encompassed 4 geographical areas:

This report covers a period of 4 fiscal years (2016-2017, 2017-2018, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020) with a fiscal year being a 12 month period from April 1 to March 31 of the following year.

What analytical methods were used to test the samples and how were the samples assessed

Samples were analyzed using methods published in Health Canada's Compendium of Analytical Methods for the Microbiological Analysis of FoodsFootnote 2 and CFIA internally-developed methods.

The assessment criteria (table 1, table 2, table 3) are based on the principles of the following Health Canada documents: Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB) Standards and Guidelines for Microbiological Safety of Food – An Interpretive SummaryFootnote 3, Policy on Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-to-Eat FoodsFootnote 4 and Guidance Document on E. coli O157:H7 and E. coli O157:NM in Raw BeefFootnote 5. In the absence of Health Canada standards, policies or guidelines, the assessment criteria are based on other international food safety authorities' microbiological guidelinesFootnote 6, Footnote 7, Footnote 8, Footnote 9, Footnote 10. Detailed information about the assessment criteria used for each commodity will be provided in the final reports which will be published after the surveys have concluded.

Table 1. Assessment criteria for indicator organisms
Analysis Product(s) Satisfactory assessment Investigative assessment Unsatisfactory assessment
Aerobic Colony Count (ACC) Milk from animals other than cows
Plant-based milk
Plant-based ice cream
≤106 CFU/g or mL >106 CFU/g or mL Not Applicable (N/A)
ACC Frozen raw coconut meat ≤104 CFU/g >104 CFU/g N/A
Total coliforms Milk from animals other than cows
Plant-based milk
Plant-based ice cream
≤103 CFU or MPN/g or mL >103 CFU or MPN/g or mL N/A
Generic Escherichia coli (E. coli) Pasteurized cheese ≤102 CFU or MPN/g >102 and ≤2X103 CFU or MPN/g >2x103 CFU or MPN/g
Generic E. coli RTE lunch meat
RTE liver pâté
RTE sausage
Fresh vegetables
Dried spices
RTE fish and seafood
≤102 CFU or MPN/g >102 and ≤103 CFU or MPN/g >103 CFU or MPN/g
Generic E. coli Frozen raw coconut meat
Dried grated coconut
Raw meat
Plant-based cheese
≤102 CFU or MPN/g >102 CFU or MPN/g N/A
Generic E. coli RTE chicken or turkey breast strips ≤10 CFU or MPN/g >10 and ≤103 CFU or MPN/g >103 CFU or MPN/g
Table 2. Assessment criteria for pathogenic bacteria
Analysis Product(s) Satisfactory assessment Investigative assessment Unsatisfactory assessment
Bacillus cereus (B. cereus) Dried ground spices ≤104 CFU/g >104 and ≤106 CFU/g >106 CFU/g
B. cereus Dried grated coconut ≤106 CFU/g >106 CFU/g N/A
Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens) Dried ground spices ≤104 CFU/g >104 and ≤106 CFU/g >106 CFU/g
C. perfringens Dried grated coconut ≤106 CFU/g >106 CFU/g N/A
E. coli O157 All products tested for E.coli O157 Not detected N/A Detected
Non-O157 Verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) All products tested for non-O157 VTEC Not detected Detected N/A
Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) Category 1 productsTable Note a Not detected N/A Detected
L. monocytogenes Category 2A and B productsTable Note a Not detected Detected and ≤102 CFU/g >102 CFU/g
L. monocytogenes Fresh baby leafy vegetables
Sprouts
Microgreens
Not detected Detected N/A
Salmonella All products tested for Salmonella Not detected N/A Detected
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) Dried grated coconut
Plant-based cheese
≤104 CFU/g >104 CFU/g N/A
S. aureus All other products tested for S. aureus ≤102 CFU/g >102 and ≤104 CFU/g >104 CFU/g

Table Note

Table Note a

Information such as pH, water activity and shelf life were used to determine product category.

Return to table note a  referrer

Table 3. Assessment criteria for viruses and parasites
Analysis Product(s) Satisfactory assessment Investigative assessment Unsatisfactory assessment
Cryptosporidium Table Note b
CyclosporaTable Note b
ToxoplasmaTable Note b
Hepatitis A Virus (HAV)Table Note b
Norovirus Genotype (I and II) (NoV (GI and GII))Table Note b
All products tested for parasites and viruses Not detected Detected N/A

Table Note

Table Note b

The methods cannot discriminate between potentially infectious and non-infectious viruses or parasites.

Return to table note b  referrer

How many samples were tested, what were they tested for and what were the results

Details about each targeted survey and test results (as of March 31, 2020) can be found in table 4.

Table 4. Survey results as of March 31, 2020
Fiscal year(s) Product(s) Microorganisms tested Number of samples tested Satisfactory (S) Investigative (I) Unsatisfactory (U) Comments
2019/2020 Non-cow animal milk pasteurized cheese L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
121 121 0 0 All satisfactory
2019/2020 Medium or hard pasteurized cheese L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
289 289 0 0 All satisfactory
2018/2019
2019/2020
Shredded pasteurized cheese L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
896 896 0 0 All satisfactory
2018/2019
2019/2020
Single serve pasteurized cheese L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
592 592 0 0 All satisfactory
2018/2019
2019/2020
Sliced pasteurized cheese L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
891 891 0 0 All satisfactory
2018/2019
2019/2020
Soft pasteurized cheese with spices L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
873 872 0 1 U=L. monocytogenes
2019/2020 Milk from animals other than cows L. monocytogenes ACC
Total coliforms
Salmonella
120 97 23 0 I=ACC (21)
I= ACC & total coliforms (2)
2016/2017 Ground beef VTEC 589 582 7 0 I=non-O157 VTEC
2017/2018
2018/2019
2019/2020
Ground veal E. coli O157
VTEC
Generic E. coli
Salmonella
1128 1041 83 3 I=non-O157 VTEC (45)
I=non-O157 VTEC & Generic E. coli (7)
I=Salmonella (6)
I=Generic E. coli (25)
U=E. coli O157
Note: 1 sample could not be assessed
2018/2019
2019/2020
Ground lamb E. coli O157
VTEC
Generic E. coli
Salmonella
387 321 64 1 I=non-O157 VTEC (62)
I= Generic E. coli (2)
U=E. coli O157
Note: 1 sample could not be assessed
2018/2019
2019/2020
RTE lunch meat L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
893 893 0 0 All satisfactory
2018/2019
2019/2020
RTE liver pâté L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
399 398 0 1 U=L. monocytogenes
2018/2019
2019/2020
RTE chicken or turkey breast strips L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
890 889 1 0 I=Generic E. coli
2019/2020 RTE sausage L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
593 591 1 1 I/U=L. monocytogenes
2018/2019
2019/2020
RTE fish and seafood L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
597 594 0 3 U=L. monocytogenes
2019/2020 RTE fish products L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
100 98 0 2 U=L. monocytogenes
2017/2018
2018/2019
2019/2020
Imported fresh berries Cyclospora
Cryptosporidium
Toxoplasma
1146 1145 1 N/A I=Cyclospora
2019/2020 Imported romaine lettuce E. coli O157
Generic E. coli
287 287 0 0 All satisfactory
2019/2020 Imported romaine lettuce heart E. coli O157
Generic E. coli
387 387 0 0 All satisfactory
2019/2020 Imported fresh-cut romaine lettuce E. coli O157
Generic E. coli
293 293 0 0 All satisfactory
2018/2019
2019/2020
Domestic, conventional fresh baby leafy vegetables L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
E. coli O157
Generic E. coli
327 324 3 0 I=L. monocytogenes
2018/2019
2019/2020
Domestic, organic fresh baby leafy vegetables L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
E. coli O157
Generic E. coli
52 52 0 0 All satisfactory
2018/2019
2019/2020
Imported, conventional fresh baby leafy vegetables L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
E. coli O157
Generic E. coli
1208 1198 10 0 I=L. monocytogenes (8)
I=Generic E. coli (2)
2018/2019
2019/2020
Imported, organic fresh baby leafy vegetables L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
E. coli O157
Generic E. coli
506 506 0 0 All satisfactory
2019/2020 Imported green onions Cyclospora
Cryptosporidium
Toxoplasma
197 197 0 N/A All satisfactory
2019/2020 Fresh seed sprouts E. coli O157
VTEC
Generic E. coli
288 287 0 1 U=Generic E. coli
2019/2020 Fresh microgreens E. coli O157
VTEC
Generic E. coli
Salmonella
L. monocytogenes
75 73 2 0 I=L. monocytogenes
I=Generic E. coli
2018/2019
2019/2020
Fresh sprouts (bean, pea, seed) and microgreens L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
E. coli O157
Generic E. coli
2345 2295 45 5 I=L. monocytogenes (36)
I=Generic E.coli (9)
U=Generic E. coli
2017/2018
2018/2019
2019/2020
Imported fresh leafy herbs Cyclospora
Cryptosporidium
Toxoplasma
771 771 0 N/A All satisfactory
2019/2020 Imported fresh leafy herbs (seasonal focus on cilantro Cyclospora
Cryptosporidium
Toxoplasma
402 402 0 N/A All satisfactory
2017/2018 Imported fresh leafy herbs HAV
NoV (GI, GII)
799 798 1 N/A I=NoV (GII)
2018/2019
2019/2020
Imported frozen cut fruits HAV
NoV (GI, GII)
484 484 0 N/A All satisfactory
2019/2020 Dried grated coconut Salmonella
B. cereus
C. perfringens
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
404 404 0 0 All satisfactory
2019/2020 Frozen raw coconut meat L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
E. coli O157
Generic E. coli
ACC
295 168 126 1 I=ACC (114)
I=ACC & Generic E. coli (12)
U=Salmonella
2019/2020 Plant-based cheese L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
171 170 1 0 I=Generic E. coli
2019/2020 Plant-based ice cream L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
ACC
Total coliforms
271 269 2 0 I=L. monocytogenes
I=ACC
2019/2020 Plant-based milk L. monocytogenes
Salmonella
ACC
Total coliforms
467 463 4 0 I=ACC
2018/2019
2019/2020
Conventional ground spices Salmonella
B. cereus
C. perfringens
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
755 754 0 1 U=Salmonella
2018/2019
2019/2020
Organic ground spices Salmonella
B. cereus
C. perfringens
S. aureus
Generic E. coli
338 337 1 0 I=B. cereus
Total (%) - - 21,626 21,230
(98.2)
374
(1.7)
20
(0.1)
Note: 2 samples could not be assessed

What do the survey results mean and what will they be used for

Interim results show that almost all (98.2%, 21,230/21,626) of the samples were assessed as satisfactory, while 1.7% (374/21,626) were assessed as investigative and 0.1% (20/21,626) were assessed as unsatisfactory. Most of the surveys covered in this report have a >95% satisfactory rate to date, with the only exceptions being:

CFIA conducted appropriate follow-up activities for samples that were assessed as investigative or unsatisfactory. These follow-up activities may have included additional facility inspections, product recalls and additional sampling. There have been no reported illnesses linked to the contaminated products.

It is important to note that all results reported herein are considered preliminary, as the targeted surveys are still ongoing. Final reports, which will include a detailed analysis of the targeted survey results, will be shared over the next few years as the surveys are completed. Results from surveillance testing will be used by the CFIA to inform risk management decisions and to support program design and re-design.

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