Aerobic Colony Count (ACC) – Food

Specimen Collection and Handling

Specimen Requirements

Test Requested Required Requisition(s) Specimen Type Minimum Volume Collection Kit

Food Bacteriology1

Food – indicate if part of a meal, control, or follow up

25 grams

Sterile plastic sample bag with round wire closure

Submission and Collection Notes


Test selection is completed by the laboratory and is based on the information provided on the requisition.  Specific analyses may be requested using the ‘Comments’ section of the requisition.

Special Instructions

For sampling, follow the instructions found in Public Health Inspector’s Guide to Environmental Microbiology Laboratory Testing.

Shipping Instructions:

  • Ship all foods in containers with hard walls and lids secured in the closed position. 
  • Shipping containers must be labelled with the submitting organization, unique identifier and contents e.g. FOOD SAMPLES on the outside of the container. 
  • DO NOT SHIP WITH CLINICAL SPECIMENS.  Shipping containers used for food samples should be dedicated to food samples and not be used for other types of environmental samples. 
  • Ship dry foods and other shelf stable foods at ambient temperature in a closed container. 
  • Ship frozen foods in an insulated container with sufficient ice packs to maintain the frozen state. 
  • Ship perishable foods in an insulated container with sufficient cold packs to maintain a temperature as close to 4°C as possible. If ice is used, contain the ice in a manner that does not allow water contact with the samples.
  • Submit all food samples to the laboratory as soon as possible.

Requisitions and Kit Ordering

Test Frequency and Turnaround Time (TAT)

The aerobic colony count (ACC)  test is performed Monday to Saturday.

Turnaround time is up to 7 days.

Test Methods

Aerobic colony count (ACC) is determined by pour plate culture technique. (Health Canada, MFHPB-18)


It is reasonable to expect properly prepared and handled ready-to-eat processed or cooked foods, where no additional food handling was required after food preparation, to have an ACC of < 104 CFU per gram. An ACC of > 105 CFU per gram is usually evidence of post processing temperature abuse, inadequate cooking or improper storage conditions. ACC cannot be applied to raw, uncooked, unprocessed foods (e.g., fruits or vegetables), cultured or fermented products (e.g., cheese, yogurt or salami, etc.) since these foods are known and expected to have naturally occurring microbial flora. There are three categories of ACC listed in the table above, which are based on food type and the processing/handling the food has undergone.

Unsatisfactory levels for ACC is dependent on food category:  Category 1: ≥ 105, Category 2: ≥ 107, Category 3: N/A 

Category 1 – Cooked foods that do not require handling or processing; i.e., soups, bread, quiche, cooked meat, fish & seafood, vegetables, etc. 

Category 2 – Cooked foods that require further handling prior to or during the preparation of the final product; i.e., hot dogs, sandwiches, burgers, etc. 

Category 3 – Foods that have a high ACC due to the normal microbial flora associated; i.e., pitas, potato or pasta salad, salad rolls, fresh fruits, raw vegetables, cheese, yogurt, deli meats, etc.


Results are reported to the submitting health unit as indicated on the requisition, when all analyses are completed.

Food samples that show the presence of bacteria capable of causing food-borne illness are reported to the Medical Officer of Health as per the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act.

Additional Information

For outbreaks, contact your local Health Unit, your local Public Health Laboratory or the Public Health Ontario, Public Health Laboratory Customer Service at416-235-6556 or1-877-604-4567.

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Laboratory Services

Updated 20 July 2020