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Canada Bans American Romaine Lettuce Over Fecal Bacteria Fears

Canada imposes temporary import regulations for certain California romaine due to fears of fecal bacteria

[Headline corrected; an earlier version stated that California Bans American Romaine Lettuce Over Fecal Bacteria Fears]

FOOD SAFETY NEWS – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is implementing temporary import conditions for romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley in California for the 2021 growing season.

The conditions apply to romaine from Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Monterey.

Between Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, 2021, importers of romaine lettuce and products containing romaine lettuce from the United States will be required to provide proof that the product does not originate from counties in California’s Salinas Valley, or an attestation form and certificate of analysis for each shipment to demonstrate that the romaine lettuce does not contain detectable levels of E. coli O157:H7.

Similar temporary import conditions were implemented during the same period in 2020.

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The temporary requirements add an extra level of control to the food safety measures already in place under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations Act (SFCA) and the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR).

As of Jan. 15, 2021, SFCR requirements came into force for most businesses in the fresh fruits or vegetables sector that import, export or engage in interprovincial trade.

Under the SFCR, fresh fruits or vegetables businesses, including those who import romaine lettuce, are now required to obtain a Safe Food for Canadians licence and maintain:

  • preventive controls that address food safety hazards;
  • preventive control plans that document risks to food and how they are addressed;
  • and
    traceability documentation that tracks the movement of food one step forward and one step back in the supply chain.

From 2016 to 2019, romaine lettuce from California was linked to outbreaks of E. coli illnesses in the United States and Canada. Food safety investigations by Canadian and U.S. authorities identified the Salinas Valley growing region as a recurring source of E. coli outbreaks.

As a result, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is working closely and collaboratively with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to identify and respond to any potential outbreaks.

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Additional safeguards

Canada maintains specific import requirements to minimize potential hazards associated with romaine lettuce. For example, the importation of leafy greens from California is limited to products supplied by certified members of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA). LGMA certified members must adhere to food safety requirements subject to regular audits by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

The CFIA has a regular monitoring program for E. coli O157:H7 in fresh vegetables. Since April 1, 2019, in addition to the regular monitoring program, the CFIA added 1,000 samples per year of imported romaine lettuce and products containing romaine lettuce.

For more information, read the CFIA’s guidance Import requirements for romaine lettuce from the United States.

Quick Facts

Due to growing conditions, Canada imports lettuce from Salinas Valley primarily during the fall months.

Approximately 40,000 shipments of romaine lettuce or salad mixes containing romaine lettuce were imported into Canada from January to December 2020.

Romaine lettuce is associated with elevated food safety risks. In Canada, there have been seven documented outbreaks of illnesses associated with romaine lettuce, and 16 recalls of romaine lettuce or products containing romaine lettuce because of E. coli O157:H7 from 2010 to 2019.

Under the CFIA’s temporary import requirements, romaine from the Salinas area must be tested in a laboratory accredited by an accreditation body that is a signatory to the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA).

In 2020, the CFIA imposed temporary import conditions for romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley between Oct. 7 and Dec. 31. There were no E. coli outbreaks in Canada related to lettuce from that region in 2020.

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