The Public Health Agency of Canada’s announced this evening a foodborne illness investigation indicating that the most probable cause of the E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in the Maritimes and Ontario is shredded lettuce distributed by FreshPoint Inc. primarily to some KFC and KFC-Taco Bell restaurants. The products were not distributed to grocery stores.

As a precaution, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is working with FreshPoint Inc. to recall any remaining affected products from these restaurants. At this point, the source of contamination for the shredded lettuce has not been determined. The CFIA has traced the lettuce to its origin in California and has notified U.S. authorities of this finding.

Since the last update, 5 additional cases of E. coli O157:H7 were confirmed in Ontario and 5 in Nova Scotia, as part of this outbreak. This brings the total number of cases to 26. These individuals became ill between late December and early January.  The Public Health Agency of Canada continues to lead the coordination of the investigation into this outbreak in close collaboration with its health and food safety partners. There are 6 cases in New Brunswick, 10 in Nova Scotia and 10 in Ontario.

As I said to the Salinas newspaper:

“Recalls usually don’t make sense for leafy greens,” said food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler. “Lettuce has such a short shelf life that by the time you’ve figured out the cause of the outbreak, the product is long out of the market.”

FDA and self-imposed regulations of California growers have reduced the number of outbreaks in recent years said Marler, but contamination is always a possibility.

“California agriculture has certainly done much better job protecting the public since the spinach E. coli outbreak of 2006,” said Marler. “But there really is no silver bullet for making lettuce perfectly safe.”