News And Media

Public Health Notice – All samples tested were negative for E. coli O157

Posted by:Julie Van Winden, Thursday, January 11, 2018

January 10, 2018 – Update

This notice is being updated to reflect that the outbreak appears to be over. The risk to Canadians has returned to low and the Public Health Agency of Canada is no longer advising individuals in affected provinces to consider consuming other types of lettuce, instead of romaine lettuce.

Why should you take note?

The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with provincial public health partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada to investigate an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157, commonly called E. coli. The outbreak involves five eastern provinces. Based on the investigation findings to date, exposure to romaine lettuce has been identified as the source of the outbreak, but the cause of contamination has not been identified. No individuals have had illness onset dates beyond December 12, 2017. As a result, the outbreak appears to be over, and the risk to Canadians has returned to low.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has completed its food safety investigation. All samples tested were negative for E. coli O157.

Although the outbreak appears to be over, the Public Health Agency of Canada advises Canadians to always follow safe food handling tips for preparing lettuce. Individuals in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador are no longer advised to consider consuming other types of lettuce, instead of romaine lettuce.

The investigation into the possible source of the contaminated product remains active in the United States. This public health notice will be updated if there is any new information about the source of contamination or when the investigation closes.

How does lettuce become contaminated with E. coli?

E. coli are bacteria that live naturally in the intestines of cattle, poultry and other animals. A common source of E. coli illness is raw fruits and vegetables that have come in contact with feces from infected animals. Leafy greens, such as lettuce, can become contaminated in the field by soil, contaminated water, animals or improperly composted manure. Lettuce can also be contaminated by bacteria during and after harvest from handling, storing and transporting the produce. Contamination in lettuce is also possible at the grocery store, in the refrigerator, or from counters and cutting boards through cross-contamination with harmful bacteria from raw meat, poultry or seafood. Most E. coli strains are harmless to humans, but some varieties cause illness.

Investigation summary

As of January 10, 2018, there were 42 cases of E. coli O157 illness reported in five eastern provinces: Ontario (8), Quebec (15), New Brunswick (5), Nova Scotia (1), and Newfoundland and Labrador (13). Individuals became sick in November and early December 2017. Seventeen individuals were hospitalized. One individual died. Individuals who became ill were between the ages of 3 and 85 years of age. The majority of cases (74%) were female. There is no evidence to suggest that provinces in western Canada were affected by this outbreak.

Most of the individuals who became sick reported eating romaine lettuce before their illnesses occurred. Individuals reported eating romaine lettuce at home, as well as in prepared salads purchased at grocery stores, restaurants and fast food chains. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency worked with public health officials to determine the source of the romaine lettuce that ill individuals were exposed to. As part of the food safety investigation into the source of contamination, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested romaine lettuce for the presence of E. coli. All food samples have tested negative and no source of contamination has been identified.

On December 28, 2017, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a media statement regarding a multistate outbreak of E. coli infections that are genetically related to the outbreak in Canada. On January 10, 2018, an updated media statement was released by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.