The Public Health Agency of Canada (TPHAC) is warning the public to be aware of a serious health issue that has been linked to at least one recent death.
In a statement Thursday night, December 14, 2017, TPHAC stated that a total of 30 cases of E.coli 0157 are being investigated and one person has, in fact, died. The link has been made to romaine lettuce as the source.
The agency says 6 cases have been reported in Ontario, 5 in Quebec and New Brunswick, one case confirmed in Nova Scotia and 13 in Newfoundland and Labrador.
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 provinces and is linked to romaine lettuce. Canadians are reminded to follow safe food handling practices for lettuce to avoid becoming ill. Most people with an E. coli infection will become ill for a few days and then recover fully. Some E. coli infections can be life threatening, although this is rare.
TPHAC reports that individuals became sick in November and December 2017. Twelve individuals have been hospitalized. One individual has died. Individuals who became ill are between the ages of 4 and 80 years of age. The majority of cases (70%) are female.
Many individuals who became sick reported eating romaine lettuce before their illnesses occurred. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is working with public health officials to determine the source of the romaine lettuce that ill individuals were exposed to.
At this time, there are no product recalls associated with this outbreak. The outbreak investigation is ongoing, and this public health notice will be updated on a regular basis as the investigation evolves.
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.’
What should you do to protect your health?
· Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, before and after handling lettuce.
· Unwashed lettuce, including whole heads of lettuce sold in sealed bags, should be handled and washed using these steps:
· Discard outer leaves of fresh lettuce.
· Wash unpackaged lettuce under fresh, cool running water. There is no need to use anything other than water to wash lettuce. Washing it gently with water is as effective as using produce cleansers.
· Keep rinsing your lettuce until all of the dirt has been washed away.
· Don’t soak lettuce in a sink full of water. It can become contaminated by bacteria in the sink.
· Store lettuce in the refrigerator for up to seven days. Discard when leaves become wilted or brown.
· Use warm water and soap to thoroughly wash all utensils, countertops and cutting boards before and after handling lettuce to avoid cross-contamination.
· Ready-to-eat lettuce products sold in sealed packages and labelled as washed, pre-washed or triple washed do not need to be washed again. These products should also be refrigerated and used before the expiration date.
Find out more about TPHAC consumer alert here: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/public-health-notices/2017/public-health-notice-outbreak-e-coli-infections-linked-romaine-lettuce.html