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Food Safety Focus (149th Issue, December 2018) – Food Incident Highlight

Romaine Lettuce and E. coli O157:H7

Recently, authorities in the United States (US) suspected romaine lettuce harvested in certain areas in California was the cause of the recent E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks in the US and Canada.  As such, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) suspended the importation and sale of romaine lettuce harvested in California and urged the public not to consume romaine lettuce from California or unknown sources.

Common symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 infection include stomach cramps, diarrhoea (often bloody) and vomiting but young children and the elderly have a greater risk of developing a life-threatening form of kidney failure.  Possible sources of bacterial contamination in vegetables are manure, irrigation water and wash water.  Dishes containing raw vegetables (e.g. salads) are high risk foods as there is no cooking step to kill harmful bacteria that might be present. Pregnant women, young children, the elderly and immunocompromised individuals shall not eat pre-prepared or pre-packaged salads; if salad is wanted, they are advised to prepare their own salad and consume it as soon as possible.

The CFS has been conducting surveillance of romaine lettuce including those from other areas of the US to safeguard food safety.