Protecting you from contaminated romaine lettuce
People often associate E. coli outbreaks with raw or undercooked beef. But E. coli can be found on other products, like fresh produce. For example, between 2010 and 2019, 16 recalls due to E. coli in Canada were linked to romaine lettuce. The outbreaks related to lettuce grown in the United States (U.S.) resulted in at least seven deaths in North America, and hundreds of people were sickened or hospitalized. Learn more about how E. coli gets on lettuce in the Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan and read about the U.S. investigation.
Given the risks, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has measures in place to help verify that the produce you buy and eat is safe. These include conducting additional testing, verifying compliance of importers, and implementing additional temporary measures for importing romaine lettuce.
The CFIA takes action
In 2020, after thorough engagement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the release of its investigation that pinpointed the source of these recurring outbreaks, the CFIA applied temporary import conditions for romaine lettuce grown in California's Salinas Valley during the fall 2020 harvest season.
This year, similar temporary import conditions are in place from September 30 to December 31, 2021. The CFIA is requiring importers to show proof that their romaine lettuce does not contain detectable levels of E. coli O157:H7 through testing by an accredited laboratory. Alternatively, they must prove that the lettuce products do not come from the Salinas Valley.
The CFIA also continues to monitor fresh vegetables for E. coli by regularly sampling and testing food from grocery stores across the country. Since 2019, the Agency expanded testing to include an additional 1,000 samples per year of imported romaine lettuce, as well as products containing romaine lettuce.
The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations
Strict requirements are in place for all imported food – not just romaine lettuce. Under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, importers of all foods must have preventive controls in place to address food safety hazards. They are required to document these controls in a written plan, unless they meet the small business exception.
They also need records that trace imported products one step forward and one step back in the supply chain. This significantly reduces the time it takes to recall a product, if necessary.
Working with U.S. partners
The CFIA works with the U.S. FDA to quickly identify and respond to potential outbreaks, and to understand how pathogens like E. coli can contaminate produce.
Leafy greens imported from California can only be sourced from a certified member of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) which subjects the greens to strict food safety requirements and regular audits by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
To see first-hand how the U.S. was implementing food safety practices for the production and marketing of leafy greens, a team of CFIA staff visited growing areas in California's Salinas Valley in 2019 and in Yuma, Arizona in 2020.
CFIA staff found that while the LGMA's on-farm food safety certification programs were robust and designed to reduce the risk of contamination of leafy green crops, outbreaks linked to leafy greens from California's Salinas Valley continued to occur. The team's observations supported the decision to implement temporary import conditions for romaine lettuce from the U.S. as an additional safeguard.
What you can do
The CFIA is working hard to verify that all produce bought and consumed by Canadians remains safe, but consumers also have a role to play in protecting themselves and their families.
Learn about produce safety and sign up for the CFIA's food recall warnings to get the latest news about recalls.
- Notice to industry: Temporary import requirement: some California lettuce to be tested for E. coli
- Import requirements for romaine lettuce from the United States (2021)
- Sign up for food recall and allergy alerts
- How we decide to recall a food product
- Going the extra mile for imported food safety
- Pass the Mic: talking about food recall communications
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