E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce apparently over, Ottawa says

An outbreak of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce "appears to be over," according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Risk from infections 'has returned to low' while investigation continues

Although the outbreak appears to be over, the Public Health Agency of Canada says Canadians should 'always follow safe food handling tips for preparing lettuce.' (CBC News)

An outbreak of E. coli infections linked to romaine lettuce "appears to be over," the Public Health Agency of Canada says. 

"The risk to Canadians has returned to low and the Public Health Agency of Canada is no longer advising individuals in affected provinces to consider consuming other types of lettuce, instead of romaine lettuce," it said in an update published on its website Wednesday evening. 

The outbreak of E. coli O157 was declared in December after several reports of illness in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec. Cases were later confirmed in Ontario as well. Investigators identified romaine lettuce as the source of the E. coli infections, but still have not determined the cause of the contamination. The investigation continues. 

The public health agency considers the outbreak to be over, it said, because there have been no reports of illnesses starting after Dec. 12. 

On its website in December, the public health agency said that continued reports of illnesses suggested that contaminated romaine lettuce may still be in restaurants and stores, and advised people living in Eastern Canada to avoid romaine lettuce.

Some stores, including the Sobeys grocery chain, pulled romaine lettuce products from its shelves. 

By Dec. 28, there were more than 40 cases under investigation in Canada and one reported death.

U.S. investigation continues

People also became ill in the United States, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also conducted a multi-state investigation. Officials determined that the E. coli bacteria found in both countries were genetically "related."

In a news release issued earlier on Wednesday, the CDC said the "likely source" of the outbreak in the U.S. appeared to be "leafy greens," but unlike in Canada, officials had not identified a specific type. 

"Because CDC has not identified a specific type of leafy greens linked to the U.S. infections, and because of the short shelf life of leafy greens, CDC is not recommending that U.S. residents avoid any particular food at this time." the release said. 

U.S. officials are continuing their investigation. 

E. coli (Escherichia coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals and are typically harmless. But infection with the O157 strain, which produces a shiga toxin, can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.

Healthy adults usually recover within a week, but young children and older adults have an increased risk of developing a life-threatening type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome.

To protect against E. coli infection, health officials say people should thoroughly wash their hands, as well as counters, cutting boards and utensils.  People should also thoroughly wash fresh produce. 


Nicole Ireland is a CBC News journalist with a special interest in health and social justice stories. Based in Toronto, she has lived and worked in Thunder Bay, Ont.; Iqaluit, Nunavut; and Beirut, Lebanon.

With files from The Canadian Press