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Last of Canada’s E. coli Victims Discharged From Hospital

Not a single E. coli O157:H7 outbreak can be considered a good one, but when everyone recovers it is about as good as it gets. And that’s how Canada’s January E. coli outbreak –sourced to California lettuce– is ending.

“The last patient was discharged,” John Gillis, media relations advisor for the Capital Health District Authority in Nova Scotia, told Food Safety News.

Last discharged was the one Nova Scotia patient out of the 30 E. coli victims in three provinces who also developed the kidney threatening Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). In addition to that patient, a dozen other E. coli victims were hospitalized across Ontario and the Maritimes.

Canada’s lettuce-caused E. coli outbreak first surfaced on New Year’s Eve–Dec. 31, 2012–in New Brunswick. In the next 16 days, a total of 30 E. coli illnesses were confirmed; 7 in New Brunswick, 10 in Nova Scotia, and 13 in Ontario.

Canada usually reports about 440 cases of E. coli O157:H7 annually.

Also within the first week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was investigating an Ontario-based distributor called Freshpoint. And two days later, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) found through its epidemiological assessment that the likely source of the outbreak was lettuce the victims consumed at KFC and Taco Bell restaurants.

The last onset of illness, among the victims,  was on Jan. 9. They ranged in age from  1-83, and  half were male and half were female.

KFC and Taco Bell, units of the fast food giant Yum! Brands got their lettuce from Freshpoint. On Jan. 10, Freshpoint initiated a recall of the lettuce its distributed to KFC and Taco Bell, quickly expanded to include other restaurants and institutions it served.

By Jan. 12, CFIA says it’s unlikely given the shelf life of lettuce that any of the contaminated products remains in circulation.

CFIA has traced the lettuce to California, from a grower involved in the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (LGMA). Food Safety News has learned that the CFIA investigation  is focused on a brand from a company on the central coast of California. It’s a brand that may involve multiple growers and CFIA is not yet ready to name names.

California’s LGMA is safety program developed by the state’s growers and their buyers to prevent product contamination. It involves private auditors and public inspections by the State of California.
Many of the LGMA practices–developed after the 2006 spinach outbreak of E. coli– are included in the new produce rule published for comment by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act.

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