Bacterial Pathogens and Indicators in Frozen Raw Coconut Meat – April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2021
Food microbiology – Targeted surveys – Final report
A 2-year targeted surveyFootnote 1. analysed 584 samples of frozen raw coconut meat for the presence of the pathogens Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes), Salmonella species (spp.), and Escherichia coli O157 (E. coli O157). All samples were also tested for generic E. coli and Aerobic Colony Count (ACC) which are indicators of the overall hygienic and sanitary conditions of the food supply chain from production to the point of sale.
Almost all (99.8%) of the samples tested were found to be free of pathogenic bacteria. L. monocytogenes, and E. coli O157 were not found in any of the samples. Salmonella spp. and ACC at elevated levels were found in 1 of the 584 (0.2%) samples. ACC at elevated levels were found in 213 of the 584 (36.5%) samples. Both ACC and generic E. coli at elevated levels were found in 31 of the 584 (5.3%) samples. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted appropriate follow-up activities and a food recall was issued by industry. There were no reported illnesses related to these products.
Overall, our survey results indicate that frozen raw coconut meat sold in Canada are generally safe for consumption, however they can occasionally be contaminated. Also, given that > 40% of the samples in our survey contained elevated levels of indicator organisms which may be indicative of poor processing controls, focus should be placed on good hygienic practices for producers, retailers and consumers for all foods, and especially those that are consumed raw.
Why was this survey conducted
The survey was conducted to generate baseline information on the quality and safety of frozen raw coconut meat sold at retail in Canada.
Frozen coconut is a food that has become increasingly available at retail in Canada in recent years. It can be eaten frozen or thawed as a snack or can be used as an ingredient in many prepared foods such as smoothies, baked goods, or soups. In many cases, frozen coconut is added to dishes during the final stages of preparation and consumed without further cooking.
Unfortunately, frozen raw coconut meat has been associated with recallsFootnote 2, Footnote 3 and outbreaksFootnote 4, Footnote 5 of foodborne illness as it can become contaminated during production, harvest, post-harvest handling, processing, packaging, distribution, and/or at retail. Whenconsumed, a product containing bacterial pathogens creates the potential for foodborne illness. Additionally, studiesFootnote 6 have shown that raw coconut meat can support the growth of foodborne pathogens.
When was the survey conducted
The survey was conducted over a 2-year period from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2021.
Where were the samples collected from
Samples were collected from national retail chains and local/regional grocery stores located in the following 11 major cities across Canada:
- Quebec City
The planned number of samples to be collected from each city was based on the population of the province in which the city was located relative to the total population of Canada.
How many and what kind of samples were collected
A total of 584 pre-packaged frozen raw coconut meat samples were collected. A variety of product types were selected to represent varying degrees of processing (chunks, sliced, shredded, pureed). A sample consisted of a single or multiple consumer sized packages of the same lot weighing at least 250 g.
What were the samples tested for
All samples were tested for L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., E. coli O157, generic E. coli, and ACC. L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., and E. coli O157 are pathogenic bacteria while generic E. coli, and ACC are indicators of the overall hygienic and sanitary conditions under which the samples have been produced, processed, stored, and transported.
What methods were used to test the samples
Samples were analyzed using analytical methods published in Health Canada's Compendium of Analytical Methods for the Microbiological Analysis of FoodsFootnote 7 that were appropriate for the testing of frozen raw coconut meat.
How were the samples assessed
The samples were assessed using criteria based on the principles of the following documents: Health Products and Food Branch Standards and Guidelines for Microbiological Safety of Foods – An Interpretive SummaryFootnote 8, Policy on Listeria monocytogenes in Ready-to-Eat FoodsFootnote 9, the Food and Drugs ActFootnote 10 (Section 4 (1)), and the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for FoodsFootnote 11.
|Salmonella spp.||Not detected||Not applicable||Detected|
|L. monocytogenes||Not detected||≤ 102 CFU/g||> 102 CFU/g|
|E. coli O157||Not detected||Not applicable||Detected|
|ACC||≤ 104CFU/g||> 104 CFU/g||Not applicable|
|Generic E. coli||≤ 102 MPN/g||> 102 MPN/g||Not applicable|
No assessment guidelines had been established in Canada for the presence of indicator organisms and most bacterial pathogens in frozen raw coconut meat at the time of writing this report.
As Salmonella spp. and E. coli O157 are considered pathogenic to humans their presence is considered to be a violation of the Food and Drugs ActFootnote 10 Section 4(1)a and therefore assessed as unsatisfactory.
Unlike bacterial pathogens, most strains of generic E. coli are harmless. Similarly, ACC is the total number of generally harmless bacteria that are able to grow in an oxygenated (aerobic) environment. Both generic E. coli and ACC are considered to be indicators of the microbial quality of food. Generic E. coli is an indicator of fecal contamination while ACC is an indicator of the conditions under which a food is produced, processed, packaged, and stored. Their levels 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, however elevated levels were assessed as investigative, possibly resulting in further follow-up actions.
What were the survey results
Almost all (99.8%) of the samples tested were found to be free of pathogenic bacteria. L. monocytogenes and E. coli O157 were not found in any of the 584 samples tested. Salmonella spp. and ACC at elevated levels (> 104 CFU/g) were found in 1 of the 584 (0.2%) samples.
|Bacterial analysis||Number of samples tested||Satisfactory (%)||Investigative (%)||Unsatisfactory (%)|
|Salmonella spp.||584||583 (99.8)||Not applicable||1Table note a|
|E. coli O157||Not applicable||0|
|Total||584||583 (99.8)||0 (0.0)||1 (0.2)|
ACC at elevated levels (> 104 CFU/g) was found in 213 of the 584 (36.5%) samples. ACC at elevated levels (> 104 CFU/g) and generic E. coli at elevated levels (> 102 MPN/g) were found in 31 out of 584 (5.3%) samples.
|Bacterial analysis||Number of samples tested||Satisfactory (%)||Investigative (%)|
|ACC||584||340 (58.2)||213 (36.5)|
|ACC and generic E. coli||31(5.3)|
|Total||584||340 (58.2)||244 (41.8)|
Survey results are also presented by production practice (table 4), origin (table 5), and product type (table 6).
|Production practice||Number of samples tested (%)||Satisfactory||Investigative||Unsatisfactory|
|Product origin||Number of samples tested (%)||Satisfactory||Investigative||Unsatisfactory|
|UnknownTable note b
(domestically packaged)Table Note c
|Product type||Number of samples tested (%)||Satisfactory||Investigative||Unsatisfactory|
|Frozen raw coconut chunks||310 (53.1)||279||30||1|
|Frozen pureed raw coconut||6 (1.0)||6||0||0|
|Frozen grated raw coconut||61 (10.4)||5||56||0|
|Frozen shredded raw coconut||195 (33.4)||44||151||0|
|Frozen sliced raw coconut||12 (2.1)||5||7||0|
What do the survey results mean
No previously published studies on the microbiological quality and safety of frozen raw coconut meat were found at the time of writing this report. A previous CanadianFootnote 12 study was conducted by the CFIA on the microbial quality and safety of fresh-cut fruits sold at retail including coconut. E. coli O157, L. monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., Shigella, and generic E. coli (> 100 CFU/g) were not found in any of the 20 fresh-cut coconut samples tested.
Overall, our survey results indicate that frozen raw coconut meat sold in Canada is generally safe for consumption, however they can be infrequently contaminated. Also, given that > 40% of the samples in our survey contained elevated levels of indicator organisms (ACC > 104CFU/g) which may be indicative of poor processing controls, focus should be placed on good hygienic practices for producers, retailers and consumers for all foods, and especially those that are consumed raw.
What is done with the survey results
All results are used to:
- inform risk management decisions
- support program design and re-design
No illnesses were associated with the investigative and unsatisfactory samples, however appropriate follow-up activities were initiated including food safety investigations and recallsFootnote 3.
Can I access the survey data
Yes. The data will be accessible on the Open Government Portal.
- Date modified: