Jan 15, 2013 (CIDRAP News) – Canadian authorities say all California lettuce shipped into Canada must be certified under the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA), a voluntary food safety program, which means the lettuce believed to be the source of a Canadian outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 would have carried the LGMA seal.
The outbreak has grown to include 28 cases in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Ontario, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) announced yesterday, an increase of 2 since the previous update on Jan 11.
Shredded California lettuce that was distributed to some KFC and KFC-Taco Bell restaurants is the most probable cause of the outbreak, according to the PHAC. It was distributed by FreshPoint Inc, an Ontario firm.
In a question-and-answer statement Jan 11, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said that lettuce shipped from California into Canada must be certified under the LGMA, in which producers use a set of food safety practices audited by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). More than 100 companies, which represent 99% of California's leafy greens production, are LGMA member, according to the organization.
The LGMA was developed in response to a 2006 E coli outbreak that was tied to fresh spinach grown in California and involved 205 cases and 3 deaths. The required safety practices pertain to environmental assessments, water use, soil amendments, worker practices, and field sanitation, according to the LGMA.
Canadian authorities have not identified the grower of the implicated lettuce, and they say the source of the contamination has not been determined, either.
The current outbreak is not the first time California lettuce has been blamed for a foodborne outbreak in Canada, according to a Food Safety News story posted today. It said illnesses last year at two New Brunswick restaurants and one in Orange County, Calif., were blamed on lettuce from the state.
The chairman of the LGMA board, Ryan Talley, pledged in a blog post yesterday that the group would cooperate fully with the investigation of the Canadian outbreak.
"Consumers should know that if there is an outbreak determined to be associated with California leafy greens, the LGMA is committed to working with health officials to assist in determining the cause," Talley wrote. "Traceback and recall capabilities that are a mandatory part of our program can be initiated and any product with the potential to be associated with the outbreak is removed from market channels to protect consumers.
"Information about any implicated farms is made available to authorities, and re-inspections can be done," he added. "If it is determined that an outbreak is the result of any on-farm practice, the food safety measures included in the LGMA program will be examined and, if necessary, changed."
Jan 14 PHAC press release
Jan 15 Food Safety News story
Jan 14 Talley blog post
Mar 23, 2007, CIDRAP News story "FDA releases final report on spinach E coli outbreak"