CANADA – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CIFA) has announced special requirements for romaine lettuce imports from the U.S. owing to concerns about Escherichia coli O157:H7 contamination.

The Agency has implemented temporary Safe Food for Canadians (SFC) license conditions for the product.

SFC regulations require food businesses that import products, prepare food for export, or send food across provincial or territorial borders to have certain licenses and follow preventive food safety controls.

CIFA explained its decision by citing frequent foodborne illness outbreaks across North America that have been linked to romaine lettuce from the U.S. Specifically, CIFA points to the California Salinas Valley as a recurring source of E. coli outbreaks, including Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Monterey counties.

The temporary SFC license conditions for the import of romaine lettuce originating from the U.S. will be in effect from September 28–December 22, 2022.

Under the license conditions, importers of romaine lettuce or salad mixes containing romaine lettuce from the U.S. must declare that the product does not originate from counties of Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito and Monterey in California’s Salinas Valley, or submit an attestation form and Certificates of Analysis for each shipment to demonstrate that the romaine lettuce does not contain detectable levels of E. coli O157:H7.

Aside from meeting temporary license conditions, U.S. romaine lettuce importers must comply with other, relevant Canadian legislation. For example, lettuce grown in California and Arizona must be handled by a shipper that is a certified member of each state’s respective Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA).

When the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations came into force on January 15, 2019, importers were required to have a Safe Food for Canadians (SFC) license to import food into Canada.

Since then, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has been using a graduated enforcement approach to help food businesses comply with the new regulations.

The SFC license must be obtained prior to a shipment’s arrival at the border and must be issued for the activity of “Importing” and for the food commodities to be imported. Application requests may take up to 15 business days to process, or even longer if a pre-license inspection is required.

E.coli outbreaks in romaine lettuce

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), E. coli O157:H7 infection outbreaks connected to romaine are more frequently associated with lettuce commercially grown and harvested at the end of the growing seasons in California and Arizona.

Although contamination of lettuce products is rare, between 1998 and 2019, 36 outbreaks that traced back to lettuce were recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most of these outbreaks involved romaine lettuce harvested in the fall on the California Central Coast such as in Salinas, and in late winter in Southern California and Arizona.

These two states are the major lettuce growing areas in the United States with farm production valued at nearly U.S$ 2.7 billion in 2021, says ARS.

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