Will it soon be safer to purchase romaine lettuce in Canada than the United States, even if it’s all grown in Californa’s Salinas Valley?
Before anyone could ask that question, the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (LGMA) launched a new consumer website claiming to be “the ultimate resource” on “everything you need to know about lettuce and leafy greens.”
Since an Oct. 7 announcement by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Salinas Valley romaine growers have been smarting over the sudden sampling and testing requirements that will remain in effect until the end of the year. According to the California growers, sampling and testing to move romaine into Canada are requirements that will cost consumers more than it’s worth.
The CFIA is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to head off another outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 sourced to romaine lettuce from U.S. growing regions. But only Canada has imposed any testing requirements.
The CFIA, however, is now requiring importers to either provide proof that romaine lettuce was grown outside the Salinas Valley or provide official certificates of analysis from an accredited laboratory confirming that the lettuce has below-detectable levels of e. coli.
Romaine lettuce from U.S. growing regions was the source of E. coli outbreaks in Canada and the U.S. from 2016 to 2019 growing seasons. Food imported to Canada must be safe for human consumption under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulation.
The California LGMA ‘s new consumer website is silent about testing. It does not address whether Canadian consumers have access to safer romaine than do Americans because of the CFIA action.
“No one wants to put an end to lettuce recalls and outbreaks more than farmers who grow lettuce,” according to the California LGMA. “Farmers work hard every day to make sure the healthy food they grow is safe for your family and their own.”
California and Arizona growing areas with LGMAs produce about 90 percent of the lettuce consumed in the U.S. The California and Arizona LGMAs both involve government auditors with oversight for more than 300 safety checkpoints.
But that was not enough to prevent multiple outbreaks in 2019.
Outbreaks A, B, and C sickened at least 188 people in 2019 when they ate romaine lettuce contaminated with E Coli O157:H7. The FDA announced on May 21, 2020, that the E. coli O157:H7 contamination responsible for all three romaine outbreaks likely came from fecal material that reached the lettuce crops from nearby feedlots.
That conclusion was nothing new. In 2018, romaine contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 was grown in the Yuma, AZ, region. A large feedlot adjacent to an irrigation canal used to water lettuce was the suspected source.
In 2019, the romaine contaminated with E. coli was grown in California’s Salinas Valley. And cattle operations are smaller in Salinas than Yuma.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, which has studied the repeated outbreaks, has called for cooperation from growers, ranchers, and local, state, and federal agencies to combat “pathogens commonly present in animal fecal matter.”
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