Canada adds step on U.S. romaine lettuce imports

E. coli testing to be required on Salinas Valley romaine

Canadian importers of U.S.-grown romaine lettuce will now face an extra step that’s expected to help prevent another outbreak of romaine-related illnesses due to E. coli.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Friday it will begin next week to require importers to provide proof that their U.S.-grown romaine didn’t come from certain California counties.

Otherwise, importers will need to provide an official certificate of analysis from an accredited lab confirming the romaine has “below-detectable levels” of E. coli.

The counties CFIA specifies include Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito and Monterey, which form central California’s Salinas Valley, a region dubbed by some in the food industry as “the salad bowl of the world.”

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Romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley was identified in food safety investigations as a “recurring source” of outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7-related illness in both the U.S. and Canada from 2016 to 2019, CFIA said Friday.

To “mitigate risk in the event of another outbreak this fall,” CFIA’s new certification and testing rules will apply to romaine lettuce as well as mixed salads containing romaine, and will be required on shipments arriving in Canada starting Wednesday (Oct. 7) until Dec. 31 this year.

The rules will apply to all U.S. shipments of romaine or salad mixes sold in bags, in bulk, or combined with other food items, in a fresh state, and to all varieties of mature and baby romaine.

Between June last year and July this year, 50,000 shipments of romaine lettuce or salad mixes containing romaine were imported into Canada, CFIA said.

In Canada alone, the agency said, there have been seven documented outbreaks of illnesses associated with romaine, and 16 E. coli-related recalls of romaine or products containing romaine lettuce between 2010 and 2019.

Romaine, best known as the main ingredient in caesar salad, is generally grown in open fields and thus is “associated with elevated food safety risks,” CFIA said.

Food-borne pathogens in such systems are known to come from sources such as irrigation water, manure used for fertilizer, runoff from livestock operations, wildlife feces and/or insects. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Editor, Daily News

Dave Bedard

Editor of Daily News for the Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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