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Sobeys stores halt sale of romaine lettuce

Grocery chain makes decision in response to E. coli warnings from national public health agency

Sobeys stores across the country have stopped the sale of over 300 products containing romaine lettuce products following an E. coli notice from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

To date, there have been 18 confirmed cases of E. coli O157 illness under investigation in two provinces — Ontario where there are three cases, and Quebec, where 15 people contracted the illness.

Six of the individuals involved have been hospitalized.

No deaths have been reported.

In addition to Sobeys stores, the company is also removing the product from shelves at Safeway, IGA, Thrifty Foods, Foodland, FreshCo and Lawton's Drug Stores as well as all Sobeys Inc. convenience store banners in all provinces.

In a release, the company says food safety is Sobeys’ top priority and that it will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate action to protect customers.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, meanwhile, is advising residents in Ontario and Quebec to avoid eating romaine lettuce and salad mixes containing romaine until more is known. The agency says there’s no evidence to suggest that residents of other province are affected by this outbreak.

The agency has released the following tips to help reduce — but not fully eliminate — the risk of illness:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, before and after handling lettuce.
  2. Unwashed lettuce, including whole heads of lettuce sold in sealed bags, should be handled and washed using these steps:
    • Discard outer leaves of fresh lettuce.
    • Wash unpackaged lettuce under fresh, cool running water. There is no need to use anything other than water to wash lettuce. Washing it gently with water is as effective as using produce cleansers.
    • Keep rinsing your lettuce until all of the dirt has been washed away.
    • Don't soak lettuce in a sink full of water. It can become contaminated by bacteria in the sink.
    • Store lettuce in the refrigerator for up to seven days. Discard when leaves become wilted or brown.
    • Use warm water and soap to thoroughly wash all utensils, countertops, cutting boards and storage containers before and after handling lettuce to avoid cross-contamination.
  3. Ready-to-eat lettuce products sold in sealed packages and labelled as washed, pre-washed or triple-washed do not need to be washed again. These products should also be refrigerated and used before the expiration date.

Read the full public health advisory.

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