Canadians urged to check their romaine as officials confirm E. coli case

Mariam Matti and Graham Slaughter, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Saturday, November 23, 2019 6:23PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, November 23, 2019 8:12PM EST

TORONTO — One Canadian became sick last month after eating romaine lettuce linked to an E. coli outbreak from California, the Public Health Agency of Canada has confirmed, and at least one major Canadian grocery chain is alerting customers who may have bought contaminated vegetables.

In a notice posted Friday, Public Health said it identified “one Canadian illness with a similar genetic fingerprint to illnesses reported in the U.S. investigation.” 

Grocery giant Loblaw sent out a recall notice to customers on Saturday through its loyalty program, PC Optimum.

“Following the advisory from PHAC – that customers not eat and retailers/restaurants not sell romaine from the Salinas, California growing region – we’ve pulled affected products from our shelves and reached out to PC Optimum members who have purchased impacted romaine products recently to let them know,” senior director of communications told CTVNews.ca in a statement.

The company said those who recently purchased romaine lettuce can return the product to a local store for a refund “with or without the receipt.” 

It is unclear where the contaminated romaine was purchased.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40 people in 16 states have fallen ill due to an E. coli outbreak in romaine lettuce grown in Salinas, Calif.

No deaths have been reported, but 28 people have been hospitalized and five people have developed a type of kidney failure, according to the CDC. 

The Canadian individual became ill in mid-October and is from Manitoba. The extent of their illness is unclear.

Canadian officials are joining U.S. counterparts in advising anyone with romaine lettuce in their fridge that is from the Salinas region to throw it out immediately.

That includes packages of pre-cut lettuce and salad mixes which contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix and caesar salad. Most products include a label showing where the lettuce was grown.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is advising distributors, importers, restaurants, retailers, and institutions not to distribute or use romaine from the California region “until further notice.”

Lab tests confirmed that the illness in Canada is related to the previous E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce in the last two years.

“This suggests that there may be a reoccurring source of contamination,” Public Health said in a statement.

In 2018, 29 people got sick from E. coli connected to romaine lettuce. The cases were mostly in Quebec, with some in Ontario and New Brunswick, and three in British Columbia. In the U.S., 59 people fell ill from the same outbreak.

Officials were not able to determine how the lettuce became contaminated with the bacteria.

People infected with E. coli could experience symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vommitting, mild fever, severe stomach cramps, and diarrhea.

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