Thanks in part to imported products, Canadians can enjoy fresh produce year-round. From 2016 to 2019, romaine lettuce from California was linked to outbreaks of E. coli illnesses in the USA and Canada. Food safety investigations by Canadian and US authorities identified the Salinas Valley growing region as a recurring source of the outbreaks.
To mitigate risk in the event of another outbreak this fall, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is implementing temporary import measures aimed at preventing contaminated food from entering the marketplace.
Effective October 7, 2020, the CFIA will require importers to either provide proof that romaine lettuce destined for import into Canada does not originate from counties in the Salinas Valley, or provide an official certificate of analysis from an accredited laboratory confirming that the lettuce has below-detectable levels of E. coli.
CFIA is working closely and collaboratively with the US Food and Drug Administration to identify and respond to any potential outbreaks, and continues to put in place effective preventive controls.
The testing applies to romaine lettuce as well as mixed salads containing romaine, and will be required until December 31, 2020.
The program adds an extra layer of controls to the food safety measures in place under the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR).
On January 15, 2020, 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 licence 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.
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.