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Bacterial Pathogens, Viruses and Parasites in Various Food Commodities - April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2019

Food microbiology- Targeted surveys - Interim report

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Summary

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 one of several surveillance activities that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducts on the Canadian food supply. The purpose of targeted surveys is to generate baseline information on the occurrence of microorganisms 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 in the past. 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, 2019, 18,040 samples of the above listed commodities were collected from retail locations in 11 cities across Canada and tested for various pathogens. Almost all (98.7%, 17801/18040) of the samples were assessed as satisfactory, while 1.2% (218/18040) were assessed as investigative and 0.1% (21/18040) were assessed as unsatisfactory. Most of the surveys covered in this report have a >99% satisfactory rate to date, with the 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 the assessments reported herein are preliminary as the targeted surveys are still underway and consequently, no conclusions can be drawn at this time. It is unlikely, but possible that the assessments may be adjusted if any policy or regulatory change occurs with respect to a particular food/hazard combination. This report is being provided as a proactive means of sharing a snapshot of the work conducted to date. Final reports containing further details and a full analysis of the results will be made available in the coming 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' activities to areas of greater concern. Originally started as a project under the Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP), targeted surveys have been embedded in the CFIA' regular surveillance activities since 2013. 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. 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 did we test and why

The commodities listed below were selected for targeted surveys to gather baseline information on the occurrence of pathogens (bacteria, viruses and parasites) in these foods. They are all commonly consumed by Canadians of all agesFootnote 1. Unfortunately, most of these types of commodities have been associated with recalls and outbreaks of foodborne illnesses in the past, 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 in them creates a potential risk for foodborne illnesses.

What, when and from where did we sample

All samples were collected from national retail chains and local/regional grocery stores located in 11 major cities across Canada. These cities encompassed 4 geographical areas:

A sample consisted of a single or multiple unit(s) (individual consumer-size package(s)) from a single lot with a sufficient total weight to conduct all analyses (approximately 250g).

Samples were collected between April 1 and March 31 of the year(s) in which the targeted surveys were conducted.

How many samples have been collected and what have they been tested for

The number of samples collected for each targeted survey and the microorganisms (bacteria, viruses and parasites) for which they were tested are outlined in table 1.

Table 1 - Targeted survey details
Anticipated targeted survey period -fiscal year(s) Commodity Total number of samples collected and tested to March 31, 2019 Microorganisms tested
2017/2018 to 2019/2020 Flavoured refrigerated milk 1198 Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes), aerobic colony count (ACC)
2017/2018 to 2019/2020 Dairy ice cream 786 L. monocytogenes, ACC
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Soft cheese with spices or other flavouring ingredients 578 L. monocytogenes, Salmonella species (spp.), Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), generic Escherichia coli (E. coli)
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Single serve cheese 295 L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., S. aureus, generic E. coli
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Sliced cheese 592 L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., S. aureus, generic E. coli
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Shredded/grated cheese 599 L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., S. aureus, generic E. coli
2016/2017 Raw ground beef 589 E. coli O157, non-O157 Verotoxigenic E. coli (non-O157 VTEC)
2017/2018 to 2019/2020 Raw ground veal 940 E. coli O157, non-O157 VTEC, generic E. coli, Salmonella spp. in first 100 samples
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Raw ground lamb 194 E. coli O157, non-O157 VTEC, generic E. coli
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Refrigerated RTE liver pâté 299 L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., S. aureus, generic E. coli
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Refrigerated RTE sliced/shredded lunch meat 595 L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., S. aureus, generic E. coli
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Fully cooked, RTE refrigerated chicken or turkey breast strips 595 L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., S. aureus, generic E. coli,
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Refrigerated RTE fish and seafood products 300 L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., S. aureus, generic E. coli
2016/2017 and 2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Imported stone fruits 1175 Generic E. coli, E. coli O157, Salmonella spp., L. monocytogenes, Shigella
2016/2017 and 2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Domestic stone fruits 778 Generic E. coli, E. coli O157, Salmonella spp., L. monocytogenes, Shigella
2017/2018 to 2019/2020 Imported fresh berries 773 Cyclospora, Cryptosporidium, Toxoplasma
2017/2018 to 2018/2019 Imported fresh leafy herbs 771 Cyclospora, Cryptosporidium, Toxoplasma
2017/2018 Imported fresh leafy herbs 799 Hepatitis A virus (HAV), Norovirus (NoV) (Genotype I and II (GI, GII))
2017/2018 to 2019/2020 RTE fresh-cut fruits 765 HAV, NoV (GI, GII)
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Domestic and imported, organic and conventional fresh baby leafy vegetables 1060 L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., E. coli O157, generic E. coli
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Fresh seed sprouts and microgreens 1189 L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., E. coli O157, generic E. coli
2017/2018 to 2019/2020 Frozen pre-packaged cut fruits and berries 1592 L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., E. coli O157, generic E. coli, ACC
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Frozen cut fruit and vegetable blends and leafy green vegetables for smoothies 118 L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., E. coli O157, generic E. coli, ACC
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Imported frozen cut fruits 285 HAV, NoV (GI, GII)
2018/2019 Powdered infant cereal 162 Enterobacteriaceae
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Dried ground spices 893 Generic E. coli, Salmonella spp., Bacillus cereus (B. cereus), Clostridium Perfringens (C. perfringens), S. aureus
2018/2019 to 2019/2020 Raw plain oats 120 Salmonella spp., E. coli O157, B. cereus, C. perfringens, S. aureus, generic E. coli

What analytical methods were used and how were 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 2) are based on the principles of Health Canada' Health Products and Food Branch Standards and Guidelines for Microbiological Safety of FoodsFootnote 3 or in the absence of Health Canada' Guidelines, on other international food safety authorities' microbiological guidelinesFootnote 4Footnote 5Footnote 6. The assessment guidelines for L. monocytogenes are based on Health Canada' Policy on Listeria monocytogenes in RTE foodsFootnote 7 and are dependent upon the sample type analysed (Category 1, 2A or 2B). The assessment guidelines for E. coli O157 in raw meats are based on Health Canada' Guidance Document on E. coli O157:H7 and E. coli O157:Nm in Raw Ground BeefFootnote 8.

No assessment guidelines had been established in Canada for the presence ofACC, generic E. coli, Salmonella spp., Shigella, E. coli O157, or non-O157 VTEC in some food commodities at the time of writing this report. As Salmonella spp., Shigella and E. coli O157 are considered pathogenic to humans their presence was considered to be a violation of the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) Section 4(1)aFootnote 9 and therefore in the absence of assessment guidelines, was assessed by the CFIA as unsatisfactory. The detection of non-O157 VTEC was assessed as investigative, indicating that further follow-up actions may be warranted depending upon the virulence profileFootnote 10 (such as the serotype and associated virulence gene(s)) identified.

Unlike harmful bacterial pathogens (e.g. Salmonella, E. coli O157), generic E. coli and enterobacteriaceae are commonly found in the intestines of humans and animals and most strains are harmless. Similarly, ACC is the total number of generally harmless bacteria that are able to grow in an oxygenated (aerobic) environment. ACC are normal components of the environment and can be found in soil and natural water sources. Generic E. coli, enterobacteriaceae and ACC are considered to be indicator organisms and their levels present in a food product are used to assess the overall sanitation conditions throughout the food chain from production to the point of sale. Their presence at some levels is tolerated. An investigative assessment which may result in further follow-up actions is associated with elevated levels (table 2). As the results are based on the analysis of one unit (n=1), further sampling may be required to verify their levels in the lot. An unsatisfactory assessment is associated with the presence of high levels of these organisms (table 2) as it may indicate a breakdown in Good Agricultural Practices, or Good Manufacturing Practices (sanitation practices), and therefore possibly warranting the initiation of follow-up activities to, for example, improve sanitation conditions along the food chain.

Table 2 - Assessment criteria for bacteriology tests
Analysis Commodity Satisfactory assessment Investigative assessment Unsatisfactory assessment
ACC Flavoured refrigerated milk ≤5x104 colony forming units (CFU)/mL >5x104 and ≤106 CFU/mL >106 CFU/mL
ACC Dairy ice cream ≤105 CFU/g >105 and ≤106 CFU/g >106 CFU/g
ACC Frozen pre-packaged cut fruits and berries & frozen cut fruit and vegetable blends and leafy green vegetables for smoothies ≤104 CFU/g >104 CFU/g N/A
B. cereus Dried ground spices ≤104 CFU/g >104 and ≤106 CFU/g >106 CFU/g
B. cereus Raw plain oats ≤104 CFU/g >104 CFU/g N/A
C. perfringens Dried ground spices ≤104 CFU/g >104 and ≤106 CFU/g >106 CFU/g
C. perfringens Raw plain oats ≤104 CFU/g >104 CFU/g N/A
E. coli O157 All commodities tested for E. coli O157 Not detected N/A Detected
Enterobacteriaceae Powdered infant cereal Not detected >10 most probable number(MPN)/g N/A
Generic E. coli Cheese (soft with spices or other flavourings, single serve, sliced, shredded/grated) ≤ 102 CFU/g >102 and ≤2x103 CFU/g >2x103 CFU/g
Generic E. coli Fully cooked RTE chicken/turkey breast strips ≤ 10 CFU/g >10 and ≤103 CFU/g >103 CFU/g
Generic E. coli Raw plain oats ≤102 CFU/g >102 CFU/g N/A
Generic E. coli Raw ground lamb, and veal ≤100 CFU/g >100 CFU/g N/A
Generic E. coli All other commodities tested for generic E. coli ≤ 102 CFU/g >102 and ≤103 CFU/g >103 CFU/g
L. monocytogenes category 1 product Note de tableau a Not detected N/A Detected
L. monocytogenes category 2A and B product Note de tableau a Not detected Detected and ≤102 CFU/g >102 CFU/g
L. monocytogenes Fresh baby leafy vegetables,
Fresh seed sprouts & microgreens,
Stone fruits, whole wheat
Not detected Detected N/A
Non-O157 VTEC Raw ground lamb, beef, and veal, wheat flour Not detected Detected N/A
Salmonella spp. All food samples tested for Salmonella spp. Not detected N/A Detected
Shigella spp. Stone fruits Not detected/25g N/A Detected/25g
S. aureus All food samples tested for S.aureus ≤102 CFU/g >102 and ≤104 CFU/g >104 CFU/g
S. aureus Raw plain oats ≤104 CFU/g >104 CFU/g N/A

Footnote

Footnote a

The pH and water activity of the sample were used to determine product category

Return to footnote a referrer

At the time of writing this report, no assessment guidelines had been established in Canada for viruses and parasites in whole or fresh-cut produce. In addition, the analytical methods used to analyse the samples detect the presence of viral RNA and parasite DNA and cannot discriminate between viable (potentially infectious) from non-viable (non-infectious) viruses and parasites. Consequently, the detection of viral RNA or parasite DNA was assessed as investigative indicating that further consideration is warranted to determine which follow-up activities would be the most appropriate (table 3).

Table 3 – Assessment criteria for parasitology and virology tests
Analysis Satisfactory assessment Investigative assessment Unsatisfactory assessment
Cryptosporidium Not detected Detected N/A
Cyclospora Not detected Detected N/A
Giardia Not detected Detected N/A
HAV Not detected Detected N/A
NoV (GI and GII) Not detected Detected N/A

What were the survey results

Results of the targeted surveys (as of March 31, 2019) can be found in table 4.

Table 4 - Survey results as of March 31, 2019
Commodity Total number of samples tested to March 31, 2019 Satisfactory (S) Investigative (I) Unsatisfactory (U) Results
Flavoured refrigerated milk 1198 1173
(97.9%)
12
(1.0%)
13
(1.1%)
I = ACC >105 and ≤106 CFU/g (12)
U = ACC >106 CFU/g (13)
Dairy ice cream 786 781
(99.4%)
3
(0.4%)
2
(0.3%)
I = ACC >105 and ≤106 CFU/g (3)
U = ACC >106 CFU/g (2)
Cheese (Soft with flavourings, single serve, sliced, or shredded) 2064 2064
(100.0%)
0 0 All Satisfactory
Raw ground beef 589 582
(98.8%)
7
(1.2%)
0 I = non-O157 VTEC (7)
Raw ground veal 940 869
(92.4%)
68
(7.2%)
2
(0.2%)
I = non-O157 VTEC (38)
I = non-O157 VTEC and generic E. coli >102 CFU/g (5)
I = Salmonella spp.(6)
I = generic E. coli >102 CFU/g (20)
U = E. coli O157 (2)
Note: 1 sample could not be assessed
Raw ground lamb 194 156
(80.4%)
37
(19.1%)
1
(0.5%)
I = non-O157 VTEC (36)
I = non-O157 VTEC and generic E. coli >100 CFU/g (1)
U = E. coli O157
Refrigerated RTE liver pâté 299 299
(100.0%)
0 0 All Satisfactory
Refrigerated RTE sliced/shredded lunch meat 595 595
(100.0%)
0 0 All Satisfactory
Fully cooked, RTE refrigerated chicken or turkey breast strips 595 595
(100.0%)
0 0 All Satisfactory
Refrigerated RTE fish and seafood products 300 299
(99.7%)
0 1
(0.3%)
U = generic E. coli >103 CFU/g
Imported stone fruit 1175 1158
(98.6%)
16
(1.4%)
1
(<0.1%)
I = L. monocytogenes (15)
I = generic E. coli >102 and ≤103 CFU/g (1)
U = L. monocytogenes (pH and Aw indicate that sample is a Category 1 product)
Domestic stone fruit 778 770
(99.0%)
8
(1.0%)
0 I = L. monocytogenes
Imported fresh berries 773 772
(99.9%)
1
(0.1%)
N/A I = Toxoplasma
Imported fresh leafy herbs 771 771
(100%)
N/A N/A All Satisfactory
Imported fresh leafy herbs 799 798
(99.9%)
1
(0.1%)
N/A I = NoV (GII)
RTE fresh-cut fruits 765 754
(98.6%)
11
(1.4%)
N/A I = HepA (5)
I = NoV(G1) (4)
I = NoV(GII) (2)
Fresh baby leafy vegetables 1060 1053
(99.3%)
7
(0.7%)
0 I = L. monocytogenes (5)
I = generic E. coli >102 and ≤103 CFU/g (2)
Fresh seed sprouts and microgreens 1189 1172
(98.6%)
17
(1.4%)
0 I = L. monocytogenes (15)
I = generic E. coli >102 and ≤103 CFU/g (2)
Frozen pre-packaged cut fruits and berries 1592 1570 22 0 I = ACC >104 CFU/g
Frozen cut fruit and vegetable blends and leafy green vegetables for smoothies 118 116
(98.6%)
2
(1.4%)
0 I = ACC >104 CFU/g
Imported frozen cut fruits 570 569
(99.8%)
1
(0.1%)
N/A I = NoV (GI)
Powdered infant cereal 162 157
(96.9%)
5
(3.1%)
N/A I = Enterobacteriaceae
Dried ground spices 893 892
(99.9%)
0 1
(0.1%)
U = Salmonella spp. detected
Raw plain oats 120 120
(100.0%)
0 0 All Satisfactory
Grand Total 18040 17801
(98.7%)
218
(1.2%)
21
(0.1%)
N/A

What do the survey results mean and what are they used for

Interim results show that almost all (98.7%, 17801/18040) of the samples were assessed as satisfactory, while 1.2% (218/18040) were assessed as investigative and 0.1% (21/18040) were assessed as unsatisfactory. Most of the surveys covered in this report have a >99% 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 the assessments reported herein are preliminary as the targeted surveys are still underway and consequently, no conclusions can be drawn at this time. It is unlikely, but possible that the assessments may be adjusted if any policy or regulatory change occurs with respect to a particular food/hazard combination. This report is being provided as a proactive means of sharing a snapshot of the work conducted to date. Final reports containing further details and a full analysis of the results will be made available in the coming years as the surveys are completed.

Surveillance testing results will be used by the CFIA to inform risk management decisions and to support program design and re-design.
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