Romaine_Lettuce_Cropaaa.jpegOn June 30 I posted “What is California link to Canadian E. coli cases linked to Romaine Lettuce?” And, now slowly – very slowly – information is coming out – sort of.

On July 13 Food Safety News reported:

That in late April, at least 30 people fell ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections after eating at Jungle Jim’s restaurant in Miramichi, New Brunswick. Two months later, when Canadian health officials finally linked the illnesses to romaine lettuce served at the restaurant, they also announced that matching infections had cropped up in both California and Quebec.

But that was all the information they provided, and it prompted a number of questions about the California connection: Did Californians travel to New Brunswick and eat at Jungle Jim’s, or did the infections occur in California? Were they infected near late April? Did the E. coli strains match genetically? Did they eat romaine lettuce?

For more than a week, no one would say. But on Thursday, the California Department of Public Health provided Food Safety News with some answers.

The California infections occurred in California — none of the people sickened had been traveling to Canada. The state health department spokesman would not say how many Californians were involved in the outbreak.

Today eFoodalert reported that Romaine lettuce grown on a California farm is the probable source of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses that were reported in April and May in California, New Brunswick and Quebec:

The binational outbreak sickened at least 18 people in New Brunswick (Canada) and nine residents of California. At least one resident of Quebec also was infected with the same outbreak strain.

California was notified in May by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that CDC had learned of an outbreak in Canada, caused by the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 as the California illnesses. Traceback investigations carried out by Canada and California both led to a single California farm that supplied lettuce to the California restaurant and to Jungle Jim’s in New Brunswick. Lettuce from the implicated fields was also supplied to Quebec.

Unfortunately, tracing the source of the lettuce did not lead to the source of the contamination. According to Ronald Owens, FDA and California followed up at the farm, but could not identify what might have led to the contamination. “The field had long since been harvested at the time of the investigation,” Owens explained in his email to me, “and all lettuce from the implicated lots had long since been consumed or disposed.”

I had an interesting talk with CBC radio on the lack of transparancy when in comes to California leafy greens:

Bill Marler is the top foodborne illness lawyer in the United States and the publisher of a daily, online newspaper called Food Safety News. That publication features an article about the struggle to get straight answers from public health officials on both sides of the border about the outbreak in Miramichi and a possible connection to California.