Romaine lettuce now safe to eat, Public Health Agency says

The outbreak of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce appears to be over in Canada, with no new illnesses reported since mid-November, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

As of Dec. 24, the agency is no longer advising residents of Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick to avoid eating romaine lettuce and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce, it said in a release.

Canadians have been avoiding, not just romaine, but other lettuce products because of fear of E. coli O157:H7, which can be spread to lettuce through contact with feces of cattle and poultry.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says food contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 may not look or smell spoiled, but can still make you sick. The symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, mild to severe abdominal cramps and watery to bloody diarrhea. 

Although the Canadian outbreak is over, the U.S. outbreak is still ongoing and the agency warns Canadians who are travelling to the U.S., or who shop for groceries across the border to follow recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

There were 29 confirmed cases of E. coli illness investigated between mid-October and mid-November 2018 in Canada.

That includes five people in Ontario, 20 in Quebec, one in New Brunswick and three in British Columbia, with the B.C. cases coming in contact with E. coli during travel to Quebec, Ontario and the U.S.

Ten people were hospitalized, and two individuals suffered from hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a severe complication that can result from an E. coli infection. No deaths have been reported. 

Pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems, young children and older adults are most at risk for developing serious complications.

The CFIA says only romaine lettuce was involved and only lettuce harvested in the Central Coast growing regions of northern and central California. 

Most lettuce currently on grocery shelves is from different regions, it says. Canadian-grown lettuce was not contaminated.  

The Public Health Agency recommends washing all lettuce thoroughly under cold, running water until dirt is removed, rather than soaking it in a sink. It also recommends thoroughly cleaning with soap all utensils and surfaces that come in contact with lettuce.