2014-2017 Bacterial Pathogens in Cucumbers
Cucumbers are frequently consumed by Canadians in all age groups. Unfortunately, cucumbers have been associated with several outbreaks of foodborne illnesses in recent years. Cucumbers can become contaminated by bacterial pathogens during production, harvest, post-harvest handling, processing, packaging and distribution. As cucumbers are often consumed raw, the presence of bacterial pathogens creates a potential risk for foodborne illnesses.
Considering the factors mentioned above and their relevance to Canadians whole cucumbers were selected for targeted surveys. The purpose of targeted surveys is to generate baseline information on the occurrence of pathogenic bacteria in food. Over the course of this study (April 1, 2014 – March 31, 2017), a total of 3071 samples were collected from retail locations in 11 cities across Canada and tested for bacterial pathogens of concern (Salmonella species (spp.), 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.
In this survey all (100%) of the cucumber samples analyzed were free of pathogenic bacteria tested for as Salmonella spp., Shigella and E. coli O157:H7 were not found in any samples. Elevated levels of generic E. coli (100< x ≤1000 Colony Forming Units (CFU)/g or Most Probable Number (MPN)/g) were found in 19 samples (0.6%) and high levels of generic E. coli (>1000 CFU/g or MPN/g) were found in 3 samples (<0.1%).
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted appropriate follow-up activities such as additional sampling and facility inspections. Given the perishable nature of the products, the implicated products were no longer available on the market when the samples were declared as unsatisfactory and consequently, no product recalls were issued. In addition, it was not possible to determine the source of the generic E. coli, however corrective actions were implemented by the processing facilities.
Overall, our survey results suggest that almost all cucumbers are safe for consumption. They can however be found to have elevated and high levels of generic E. coli. Consequently, as with all foods, safe handling practices are recommended for producers, retailers and consumers.
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