Canadian First Nations communities rely on traditional preservation methods such as the smoking, drying, and canning of fish and game meats to ensure long-term food security. Unlike commercial food production, there are no recognized official standards for these methods, rendering their efficacy in producing microbiologically safe foods relatively unknown. In this study, 81 fresh or processed fish and game samples obtained from four British Columbia First Nations communities were analyzed for quality indicator microbes, foodborne pathogens, and mineral levels. Aerobic counts, coliforms (CC), Escherichia coli (EC), lactic acid bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus (STA), and yeast and molds (YM) were enumerated using the TEMPO, whereas the presence of E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, and Salmonella were detected using the VIDAS immunoassay system. The opportunistic pathogens Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium were additionally detected using culture methods with subsequent PCR confirmation, and minerals (Ca, Cu, K, Mg, Mn, Na, and Zn) were detected using mass spectrometry. With the exception of STA, microbial loads were significantly (P < 0.05) higher in processed fish and meat samples compared with unprocessed samples, and game samples contained higher microbial levels than fish; however, differences were only significant (P < 0.05) for coliforms, E. coli, and STA. E. coli O157:H7 was detected in one smoked moose sample, and E. faecalis and E. faecium were isolated from 21 and 2 samples, respectively. Although smoked samples contained significantly higher Na levels, they were effective in reducing microbial levels. These results indicate that current food preservation methods practiced by British Columbia First Nations communities are infrequently effective at reducing microbial populations, and in many cases, resulted in increased microbial loads. More efforts should be made to improve the dissemination of safe food handling and processing knowledge to ensure long-term food security and well-being.
Processed samples contained higher microbial loads than unprocessed samples.
Eighty-three percent of processed samples contained unsatisfactory microbial levels.
Game contained higher levels of E. coli and S. aureus than fish samples.
Enterococcus faecalis and E. faecium were isolated from 23 samples.