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2012-2013 Bacterial Pathogens and Generic E. coli in Tomatoes


The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and strengthen Canada's food safety system in order to better protect Canadians from unsafe food and ultimately reduce the occurrence of foodborne illness.

Tomatoes contaminated with bacterial pathogens have been associated with numerous outbreaks of foodborne illness in North America. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) has ranked tomatoes as the second highest priority group of concern in terms of microbiological hazards among fresh fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes can become contaminated with bacterial pathogens by various ways along the food chain during primary production, post-harvest handling, processing, preparation and storage. As tomatoes are often consumed raw, the presence of pathogens creates a potential risk for foodborne illnesses.

Considering the factors mentioned above and their relevance to Canadians, tomatoes has been selected as one of the priority commodity groups of fresh fruits and vegetables for enhanced surveillance under the FSAP. Over the course of a five-year baseline study (2008/09 to 2012/13), approximately 5,000 tomato samples were collected from Canadian retail locations and tested for bacterial pathogens of concern.

The main objective of this targeted survey (2012/13) was to generate baseline surveillance data on the presence and distribution of bacterial pathogens Salmonella and Shigella, as well as on generic Escherichia coli (E. coli, an indicator of fecal contamination) in tomatoes. A total of 1262 tomato samples were analyzed. Salmonella and Shigella were not detected in any of the samples, and levels of generic E. coli were found to be acceptable in all the samples. All samples (100%) were assessed as satisfactory. These results suggest that the tomatoes in the Canadian market sampled during this survey were produced under Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs).

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulates and provides oversight to the industry, works with provinces and territories, and promotes safe handling of foods throughout the food production chain. However, it is important to note that the food industry and retail sectors in Canada are ultimately 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. In addition, general advice for the consumer on the safe handling of foods is widely available. The CFIA will continue its surveillance activities and inform stakeholders of its findings.

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