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Lettuce update

The Department of Health today issued the following update on the E. coli outbreak in the US and Canada associated with romaine lettuce.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local agencies, is investigating a multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses likely linked to romaine lettuce grown in California this fall. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Canadian Food Inspection Agency are also coordinating with U.S. agencies as they investigate a similar outbreak in Canada.

The FDA has been conducting a traceback investigation, reviewing shipping records and invoices to trace the supply of romaine from the place where ill people were exposed to the place where that romaine was grown.

Preliminary traceback information indicates that ill people in several areas across the country were exposed to romaine lettuce harvested in California. Specifically, current evidence indicates this romaine was harvested in the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California.

Romaine harvested from locations outside of the California regions identified by the traceback investigation does not appear to be related to the current outbreak.

There is no recommendation for consumers or retailers to avoid using romaine lettuce that is certain to have been harvested from areas outside of the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California. Additionally, there is no evidence hydroponically- and greenhouse-grown romaine is related to the current outbreak.

Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators should not serve romaine lettuce from the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California. If you are unable to determine the source of your romaine lettuce, the product should be thrown away.

“With the Christmas holiday season just around the corner, people will be eating out more often with friends, family and colleagues. They will also be buying more food to prepare meals at home. It is therefore an apt time to remind all those involved in food businesses of the importance of good food hygiene and safety practices particularly to avoid contamination of foods,” said Tom Crosson, Chief Environmental Health Officer.

“Restaurants and retailers should always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. It is recommended that they wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food.

“Wash and sanitize display cases and refrigerators regularly. Wash and sanitize cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils used to prepare, serve, or store food. Wash hands with hot water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process. Regular frequent cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces and utensils used in food preparation may help to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination.”

Based on discussions with producers and distributors in the U.S., romaine lettuce entering the market will now be labeled with a harvest location and a harvest date or will be labeled as being hydroponically- or greenhouse- grown. If it does not have this information, you should not eat or use it.

If romaine lettuce does have this labeling information, we advise avoiding any product from the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California. Romaine from outside those regions need not be avoided.

The specific California counties FDA is including in this region are:

• Monterey

• San Benito

• San Luis Obispo

• Santa Barbara

• Santa Cruz

• Ventura

Locally grown romaine lettuce was not involved and there have not been reports locally to the Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit regarding E. coli illness relating to romaine lettuce.

Press release from the Ministry of Health