Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

May 13, 2014 14:40 ET

More Than 98% of Fresh Leafy Herbs Tested Negative for Bacterial Pathogens and Generic E. coli

CFIA tests over 1,200 fresh leafy herbs

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - May 13, 2014) - Canadian Food Inspection Agency

As part of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA) routine testing of various food products, a study released today found that more than 98 per cent of fresh leafy herbs sampled in 2009/2010 were not contaminated with bacterial pathogens or generic E. coli, an indicator of fecal contamination that does not cause illness, and were safe for human consumption.

In 2009/2010, the CFIA began a four-year microbiological plan and analyzed 1,224 domestic and imported fresh leafy herbs for bacterial pathogens Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli O157:H7, and E. coli O157:NM, as well as generic E. coli.

Salmonella was detected in one sample and high levels of generic E. coli were confirmed in the other eight samples. Shigella, E. coli O157:H7, and E. coli O157:NM were not detected in any of the herb samples.

All unsatisfactory samples were subject to food safety investigations. A recall was issued to companies for one product that never reached store shelves. However, no illnesses were associated with consumption of any of the products.

The overall finding of this survey suggests that the vast majority of fresh leafy herbs in the Canadian market are produced and handled under good agricultural and manufacturing practices. However, contamination of herbs with bacterial pathogens could sporadically occur. Consumers should follow these safety tips when choosing to purchase and consume fresh leafy herbs at

Quick Facts

  • Salmonella, Shigella and E. coli O157 are bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Fresh produce including herbs, can occasionally become contaminated with these harmful bacteria at various stages of their production. Generic E. coli are harmless bacteria found in human and animal intestines. Its presence in food is often used as an indicator of faecal contamination, which can suggest inadequate agricultural and/or sanitation practices along the food production chain.

  • In recent years, leafy herbs have been reported to be responsible for a number of global outbreaks of foodborne illness. Based on this and other factors, the CFIA identified leafy herbs as one of the priority commodity groups of fresh fruits and vegetables for enhanced surveillance.

  • The CFIA's four-year microbiological targeted survey plan (2009/10 - 2012/13) includes the collection and testing of 5,000 herb samples for the presence of pathogens of concern in leafy herbs available to Canadians at retail. Further results will be released as lab tests are analyzed.

Related Products

2009-2010 Pathogens and Generic E. coli in fresh leafy herbs

Associated Links

Chemical Residues / Microbiology Targeted Surveys

Contact Information

  • Michael Bolkenius
    Press Secretary
    Office of the Minister of Health

    Media Relations
    Canadian Food Inspection Agency