Montreal

E. coli outbreak has Quebec restaurants pulling romaine lettuce

There's been no formal recall of romaine lettuce, but amid warnings of E. coli linked to the leafy green, some restaurant chains and small businesses in Quebec are taking no chances.

'You don't want to take any chances,' says Montreal restaurant owner about leafy green

Since November, two people have died and dozens have become sick in Canada and the U.S. due to infection with E. coli, which has been linked to romaine lettuce.

There's been no formal recall of romaine lettuce, but amid warnings of E. coli linked to the leafy green, some restaurant chains and small businesses in Quebec are taking no chances.

After some initial skepticism of the seriousness of the risk, the co-owner of Burger de Ville decided Thursday he would no longer serve the leafy green to his clients.

"I decided to pull it off, out of precaution for my customers, even though I didn't even see a dip in sales," said Reda Wahba. "People kept ordering it."

Since November, two people have died and dozens of people have been sick in Canada and the U.S. due to an infection from E. coli 0157, which has been linked to romaine lettuce.

A total of 41 cases of E. coli poisoning have been detected in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

As a result, the Public Health Agency of Canada issued a notice in December urging people in affected provinces to eat other kinds of lettuce.

While there is no formal recall, Wahba said he's not planning on serving romaine lettuce until there's some kind of indication from health authorities that the outbreak is over.

"You don't want to take any chances," he said. "And you don't want to get any of your customers ill or worse."
Burger de Ville, a local Montreal restaurant, has decided to swap out romaine lettuce for other kinds of greens. (CBC)

Burger de Ville joins a growing list of businesses that have opted to pull romaine lettuce from its shelves.

Cara Operations, the company that owns Quebec-based Les Rôtisseries St-Hubert and many other chains, including Harvey's, Casey's and Kelsey's, asked its restaurants to stop serving romaine lettuce in late December as a precaution.

The Boston Pizza chain has also asked cooks in its Quebec, Ontario and Maritimes locations to replace the leafy green with other kinds of lettuce.

If you can't avoid it, cook it

While restaurants are taking precautions, some Quebecers don't plan on giving up romaine lettuce.

Antoine Fortier said he's been washing and soaking his romaine lettuce for longer periods of time as a precaution.

"We're not really worried about it," he said. "But, you know, we take some measures to not have too many problems with it."

However, Lawrence Goodridge, the director of McGill University's food safety and quality program, said the practice of thoroughly washing infected lettuce won't make it safe for consumption.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends choosing other kinds of greens or vegetables instead of romaine lettuce. (CBC)

"That is actually untrue, that is not the case," he said. "Washing lettuce or any fresh produce that may be contaminated with bacteria is a not a way to ensure its safety."​

"The number of bacteria that one must consume to become sick is so low — and when you wash a lettuce or any fresh produce, you cannot wash away 100 per cent of the bacteria."

Montrealers should instead opt for different kinds of greens or, if you must have romaine lettuce, cook it, he said.

"My recommendation would be that consumers not consume romaine lettuce until this outbreak is over," he said.

With files from CBC's Navneet Pall and the Canadian Press

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