The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada are currently investigating the outbreak of E. Coli bacteria in Roman lettuce detected in five Canadian provinces. Thirty cases have been reported and one death is associated.
At the time of writing, 30 cases of E. coli O157 were investigated in five provinces: Ontario (6), Quebec (5), New Brunswick (5), Nova Scotia (1), and Newfoundland and Labrador (13). People became ill during the month of November and December 2017. Twelve people were hospitalized and one death was found. People who have become ill are between 4 and 80 years old. In most cases (70%), they are girls and women.
Many of the people who became ill said they ate Roman food before the illness began. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is working with public health officials to determine the source of romaine lettuce to which sick people have been exposed.
The risk for Canadians remains low. However, Canadians should be reminded to adopt safe lettuce handling practices to avoid getting sick. Most people infected with E. coli are sick for only a few days, then they recover fully. Although it is exceptional, some E. coli infections are potentially life threatening.
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
Here are some food safety and lettuce tips that will help you reduce the risk of infecting you with E. coli.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with lukewarm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before handling lettuce and after doing so.
- Unwashed lettuce, including lettuce apples sold in a sealed bag, must be handled and washed as follows:
- Remove the enveloping leaves from the fresh lettuce.
- Wash loose leaves of lettuce under cool running water. It is not necessary to use anything but water to wash the lettuce. A gentle rinse with water is just as effective as using cleaners.
- Rinse the lettuce until the dirt disappears.
- Do not soak lettuce in a sink filled with water. The bacteria in the sink could contaminate it.
- Do not store lettuce in the refrigerator for more than seven days. Discard if leaves are withered or scorched.
- Use warm water and soap to thoroughly wash all utensils, counters and cutting boards before handling lettuce and after doing so to avoid cross-contamination.
There is no need to rewash the ready-to-eat lettuce sold in a sealed package labeled “washed,” “prewashed” or “washed three times”. These products must also be refrigerated and consumed before the expiry date.
People infected with E. coli can develop a multitude of symptoms. Some do not get sick at all, although they can still spread the infection to others. Others may experience severe stomach upset. In some cases, people become seriously ill and must be hospitalized.
Here are the symptoms that can occur between the first and the tenth day after contact with bacteria:
- a slight fever
- severe stomach cramps
- liquid or bloody diarrhea
Most symptoms disappear after five to ten days.
Nancy Miller (MD) has over 20 years experience as a educator and health practitioner. She has a B.S. from Lake Head University In Thunder Bay, and a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Guelph . Dr. Miller has worked as a special medical consultant for a major insurance provider before becoming a freelance health author and public speaker. There are several ways to contact Dr. Miller here.