October 6, 2020

New Romaine Lettuce Requirements in Canada After Outbreaks

New romaine lettuce requirements have been established by the Canadian government in the wake of multiple E. coli outbreaks linked to that product imported from the United States. This move caught industry off guard.

New Romaine Lettuce Requirements in Canada After Outbreaks

From 2016 to 2019, romaine lettuce from California was linked to E. coli outbreaks in Canada and the United States. The Salinas Valley growing region was identified as a recurring source of some of these outbreaks. So temporary import measures put in place for romaine lettuce have been implemented to try to prevent contaminated food from entering the marketplace.

As of October 7, 2020, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will require importers to either provide proof that romaine lettuce being imported does not originate from counties in the Salinas Valley, or provide and official certificate of analysis from an accredited laboratory that confirms the lettuce has “below-detectable” levels of E. coli bacteria. These rules apply to imported romaine lettuce and mixed salad products containing romaine. The new romaine lettuce requirements will be in effect until December 31, 2020.

An official from the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Jane Proctor, told The Packer that they were “caught completely off guard” by this announcement. She also said that “these measures were developed without consultation, are not achievable in the timeframe provided, and are resulting in significant impacts on Canadian industry and consumers and, of course, on the entire romaine growing community in the affected U.S. counties.”

These requirements are in addition to the Safe Food For Canadians Regulations (SFCR) which came into force for most businesses in the fresh fruits and vegetables sector on January 15, 2020. These businesses are required to obtain a Safe Food for Canadians license.

There are other import requirements for romaine lettuce. For instance, the importation of leafy greens from California is limited to products supplied by certified members of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. And the CFIA has a regular monitoring program for E. coli O157:H7 in fresh vegetables. The government also tests more than 1,000 samples of lettuce and products containing lettuce every year.

Romaine lettuce is associated with elevated food safety risks. In Canada, there have been seven documented illness outbreaks associated with this leafy green, and 16 recalls of romaine lettuce or products containing it from 2010 to 2019.

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