2016-2017 Viruses in Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes are a popular food item as they are very versatile and can be used as ingredients in a variety of foods such as salads, sandwiches, soups and sauces. Unfortunately, sun-dried tomatoes have previously been associated with foodborne illness outbreaks worldwide, predominantly linked to viruses. Sun-dried tomatoes can become contaminated with viral pathogens during production, harvest, post-harvest handling, processing, packaging and distribution. Since sun-dried tomatoes are often consumed without further preparation, the presence of viral pathogens creates a potential risk for foodborne illnesses.
Considering the factors mentioned above and their relevance to Canadians, sun-dried tomatoes were selected for targeted surveys. Over the course of this study (April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017), a total of 221 samples of air-packed sun-dried tomatoes were collected from retail locations in 11 cities across Canada and tested for enteric viruses of concern (Hepatitis A virus (HAV) and Norovirus (NoV) (Genotype I and II (GI, GII)). NoV (GI) RNA was not detected in any of the samples tested, while HAV RNA was detected in an imported sample and NoV (GII) RNA was detected in another imported sample.
In response to the viral RNA positive samples, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) conducted appropriate follow-up activities which included a food safety investigation and Good Importing Practices (GIP) inspections at the importer. Following the food safety investigation, no product recalls were deemed necessary partly because there were no reported illnesses linked to the viral RNA positive sample and because the analytical methods used to analyse the samples cannot discriminate between infectious and non-infectious viral RNA, rendering it challenging to determine the immediate health significance of a viral RNA positive sample.
Overall, our survey results suggest that almost all sun-dried tomatoes are safe for consumption. Regardless, sun-dried tomatoes are a known potential source of foodborne illness. As with all foods, safe handling practices are recommended for producers, retailers and consumers.
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