The Current

Listeriosis outbreak in packaged salad highlights risk of lettuce

Close to half of all food-borne illnesses come from fresh produce and leafy greens are at the top of the list. While many of the recalls begin the U.S., critics here say Canada's response to such outbreaks lags behind.
Food safety is often associated with meat but produce, specifically leafy greens, are responsible for just as much food-borne illness. (Juan Antonio Capó Alonso/Flickr cc)

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When it comes to food safety, most of us try to take extra care with the seafood, poultry and beef in the kitchen.  Rarely do we eye those pre-packaged bags of salad with suspicion.

But after a massive recall of the leafy greens in late January, that may be changing. A listeriosis outbreak hit both sides of the border, making at least 11 Canadians sick.

The shelf life of lettuce is 15 days. (Alan Levine/Flickr cc)

Both the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are currently investigating what happened, and a Dole facility in Ohio is suspected to be the source. 

But to food safety experts, the most recent scare is an important reminder that leafy greens can carry real risks and that more transparency is needed where there are listeriosis outbreaks.

We don't have comprehensive statistics in Canada to know where we are relative to the evolution of food-borne illness frequencies caused by produce.-  Rick Holley, professor in University of Manitoba's agriculture and food dept.

Guests in this segment:

  • Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety.
  • Jeremy Langemann, culinary arts instructor at Red River College in Winnipeg.
  • Keith Warriner, professor in food safety at the University of Guelph, in Ontario. 

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency sent The Current a statement that reads, "When potentially unsafe food is identified, the Agency acts quickly to inform the public and verify that industry has removed recalled products from store shelves."

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins.