File this one under: can you blame them? Canada acknowledges it enjoys fresh produce year-round because of imports.

But, according to an announcement today, starting on Oct. 7, 2020, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is requiring importers to either provide proof that romaine lettuce destined for import into Canada does not originate from counties in the Salinas Valley of California, or provide an official certificate of analysis from an accredited laboratory confirming that the lettuce has below-detectable levels of E. coli.

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 authorities in Canada and the United State identified the Salinas Valley growing region as a recurring source behind the outbreaks.

To mitigate risk in the event of another outbreak this fall, the CFIA  is implementing temporary import measures aimed at preventing contaminated food from entering the marketplace.

The CFIA is working closely and collaboratively with the U.S.  Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to identify and respond to any potential outbreaks and continues to put in place preventive controls.

The testing applies to romaine lettuce as well as mixed salads containing romaine and will be required until Dec. 31, 2020.

According to Canadian officials, the program should add an extra layer of controls to the food safety measures in place under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR).

On Jan. 15 this year SFCR requirements came into force for most businesses in the fresh fruits or vegetables (FFV) sector that import, export or engage in interprovincial trade.

Under the SFCR, FFV businesses are required to obtain a Safe Food for Canadians license 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

Additional safeguards
Canada maintains specific import requirements to minimize potential hazards associated with romaine. 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.

In addition, the CFIA has a regular monitoring program for E. coli O157: H7 in fresh vegetables and is also testing 1,000 more samples of lettuce and products containing lettuce per year.

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

Quick facts

  • The CFIA plays a critical role in safeguarding a healthy food supply system, ensuring the foods Canadians eat are safe and facilitating the trade of food and food products internationally
  • More than 50,000 shipments of romaine lettuce or salad mixes containing romaine lettuce were imported into Canada from June 2019 to July 2020
  • Romaine is associated with elevated food safety risks. In Canada, there were seven documented outbreaks of illnesses associated with romaine lettuce, and 16 recalls of romaine lettuce or products containing romaine lettuce due to E. coli O157: H7 from 2010 to 2019
  • Under this new requirement, romaine from Salinas must be tested in a laboratory accredited by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), the Canadian Association for Laboratory Accreditation (CALA) or another accreditation body that is a signatory to the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA)

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