Bacterial Pathogens and Indicators in Ready-to-Eat Dried Powdered Spices – April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2021
Food microbiology – Targeted surveys – Final report
A 3-year targeted surveyFootnote 1 analysed 1762 samples of ready-to-eat (RTE) dried powdered spices for the presence of the pathogens Salmonella species (spp.), Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), Bacillus cereus (B. cereus), and Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens). All samples were also tested for generic Escherichia coli (E. coli) which is an indicator of the hygienic and sanitary conditions of the food supply chain from production to the point of sale.
Over 99.9% of the samples tested were found to be satisfactory. S. aureus (>102 CFU/g), B. cereus (>104 CFU/g), C. perfringens (>104 CFU/g), and generic E. coli (> 102 MPN/g) were not found in any samples. Salmonella spp. was found in 1 of the 1762 (0.06%) samples. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted appropriate follow-up activities and included a food recall by the industry. There were no reported illnesses related to these products.
Overall, our survey results indicate that RTE dried powdered spices sold in Canada are generally safe for consumption, however they can occasionally be contaminated. Consequently, as with all foods, and especially with those that are ready for consumption without further preparation, good hygienic practices are recommended for producers, retailers, and consumers.
Why was this survey conducted
The survey was conducted to provide enhanced oversight of the quality and safety of RTE dried powdered spices sold at retail in Canada. This survey focused on spices that are predominantly used in RTE applications such as cinnamon and pepper, and commonly consumed by CanadiansFootnote 2.
Spices are primarily used to enhance the flavour of foods and are made from various parts of a plant including the fruits, roots, bark or seeds which are dried and then groundFootnote 3. Dried spices are low moisture foods that do not support the growth of pathogens, however if present pathogens can survive for long periods of time.
Unfortunately, dried spices have been associated with food recallsFootnote 4,Footnote 5 and outbreaksFootnote 6 of foodborne illnesses as they can become contaminated with pathogens during production, harvest, post-harvest handling, processing, packaging, distribution and/or at retail. When consumed, the presence of bacterial pathogens creates the potential for foodborne illness.
When was the survey conducted
The survey was conducted over a 3-year period from April 1, 2018 to March 31, 2021.
Where were the samples collected from
As spices have a long shelf life, samples were collected from national retail chains and local/regional grocery stores in year 1 and 3 of the survey to avoid repeatedly sampling the same lot of product. In year 2 of the survey, samples were collected from natural health stores or ethnic stores. All samples were taken from retail stores located in the following 11 major cities across Canada:
- Saint John or Moncton
- Quebec City
- Kelowna or Victoria
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 1762 RTE dried powdered spice samples were collected. A sample consisted of a single or multiple consumer sized packages of the same lot weighing at least 100g.
What were the samples tested for
All samples were tested for Salmonella spp., S. aureus, B. cereus, C. perfringens, and generic E. coli. Salmonella spp. S. aureus, B. cereus, and C. perfringens are pathogenic bacteria while generic E. coli is an indicator 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 FoodsFootnote7 that were suitable for the testing of dried powdered spices.
How were the samples assessed
The samples were assessed using criteria based on the principles of Health Canada's Health Products and Food Branch Standards and Guidelines for Microbiological Safety of Foods – An Interpretive SummaryFootnote8.
|Salmonella spp.||Not detected||Not applicable||Detected|
|S. aureus||≤ 102 CFU/g||> 102 and ≤ 104 CFU/g||> 104 CFU/g|
|B. cereus||≤ 104 CFU/g||> 104 and ≤ 106 CFU/g||> 106 CFU/g|
|C. perfringens||≤ 104 CFU/g||> 104 and ≤ 106 CFU/g||> 106 CFU/g|
|Generic E. coli||≤ 102 MPN/g||> 102 and ≤ 103 MPN/g||> 103 MPN/g|
What were the survey results
Over 99.9% of the samples tested were found to be satisfactory. S. aureus (>102 CFU/g), B. cereus (>104 CFU/g), C. perfringens (>104 CFU/g), and generic E. coli (> 102 MPN/g) were not found in any samples. Salmonella spp. was found in 1 of the 1762 (0.06%) samples.
|Bacterial analysis||Number of samples tested||Satisfactory (%)||Investigative||Unsatisfactory (%)|
|Salmonella spp.||1762||1761||Not applicable||1|
|Generic E. coli||0||0|
Survey results are also presented by production practice (table 3), origin (table 4), and product type (table 5).
|Production practice||Number of samples tested (%)||Satisfactory||Unsatisfactory|
|Product origin||Number of samples tested (%)||Satisfactory||Unsatisfactory|
|UnknownTable Note a||343 (19.5)||343||0|
|UnknownTable Note a
(domestically processed)Table Note b
|Product type||Number of samples tested (%)||Satisfactory||Unsatisfactory|
|Black pepper||126 (7.2)||126||0|
|Cayenne pepper||19 (1.1)||19||0|
|Celery salt||41 (2.3)||41||0|
|Celery seed||5 (0.3)||5||0|
|Chili powder||101 (5.7)||100||1|
|White pepper||38 (2.2)||38||0|
What do the survey results mean
Previous CanadianFootnote9,Footnote10 and internationalFootnote11,Footnote12,Footnote13 studies on the microbial quality and safety of retail dried spices have shown results approximating those in our study. Differing prevalence rates between studies may be attributable to differences in product types tested, methodology, study design, etc.
Overall, our survey results indicate that RTE dried powdered spices sold in Canada are generally safe for consumption, however they can occasionally be contaminated. Consequently, as with all foods, and especially with those that are ready for consumption without further preparation, good hygienic practices are recommended for producers, retailers and consumers.
What is done with the survey results
All results are used to:
- inform risk management decisions
- support program design and re-design
While no illnesses were related to the unsatisfactory sample, these results triggered appropriate follow-up actions including:
- facility inspections
- additional sampling and testing
- a food recallFootnote 5
Can I access the survey data
Yes. The data will be accessible on the Open Government Portal.
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