Sep 15, 2021Canadian rule: Some romaine lettuce from California must be tested
To protect Canadians from possible health risks, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is implementing temporary import conditions for romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley (Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Benito, and Monterey counties) in California for the 2021 growing season.
Between Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, 2021, importers of romaine lettuce and products containing romaine lettuce from the U.S. are required to provide proof that the product does not originate from counties in California’s Salinas Valley, or an attestation form and certificate of analysis for each shipment to demonstrate that the romaine lettuce does not contain detectable levels of E. coli O157:H7.
Similar temporary import conditions were implemented during last year’s fall season.
The temporary requirements add an extra level of control to the food safety measures already in place under the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) and the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR).
As of Jan. 15, 2021, 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, including those who import romaine lettuce, are now required to obtain a Safe Food for Canadians license 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.
From 2016 to 2019, romaine lettuce from California was linked to outbreaks of E. coli illnesses in the United States and Canada. Food safety investigations by Canadian and U.S. authorities identified the Salinas Valley growing region as a recurring source of E. coli outbreaks. As a result, theCanadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is working closely and collaboratively with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to identify and respond to any potential outbreaks.
Canada maintains specific import requirements to minimize potential hazards associated with romaine lettuce. 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.
The CFIA has a regular monitoring program for E. coliO157:H7 in fresh vegetables. Since April 1, 2019, in addition to the regular monitoring program, the CFIA added 1,000 samples per year of imported romaine lettuce and products containing romaine lettuce.
For more information, read the CFIA’s guidance Import requirements for romaine lettuce from the United States.
- The CFIA plays a critical role in safeguarding a healthy food supply system, ensuring the foods Canadians eat are safe and facilitating the trade of food and food products internationally.
- Due to growing conditions, Canada imports lettuce from Salinas Valley primarily during the fall months.
- Approximately 40,000 shipments of romaine lettuce or salad mixes containing romaine lettuce were imported into Canada from January to December 2020.
- Romaine lettuce is associated with elevated food safety risks. In Canada, there have been seven documented outbreaks of illnesses associated with romaine lettuce, and 16 recalls of romaine lettuce or products containing romaine lettuce due to E. coli O157:H7 from 2010 to 2019.
- Under the CFIA’s temporary import requirements, romaine lettuce from Salinas must be tested in a laboratory accredited by an accreditation body that is a signatory to the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA).
- In 2020, the CFIA imposed temporary import conditions for romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley between Oct. 7 and Dec. 31. There were no E. coli outbreaks in Canada related to lettuce from that region.
- Import requirements for romaine lettuce from the United States (2021)
- Import requirements for leafy green vegetables from California and Arizona
- FDA Releases Investigation Report Following Fall 2020 Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Illnesses Linked to Leafy Greens
- FDA Leafy Greens STEC Action Plan
The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) has recently developed and approved specific protocols for preharvest testing of leafy greens that its members are required to follow. The protocols have been reviewed by CFIA and were a factor in their decision to allow the preharvest testing option. Last year CFIA accepted only romaine that had undergone finished product testing, which occurs after the lettuce has been harvested and packaged for sale.
“We are pleased with CFIA’s announcement because we strongly believe the preharvest testing option provides several benefits over finished product testing,” Tim York, CEO of the LGMA, said in a news release. “Although any kind of testing comes at a cost for lettuce farmers, preharvest testing is more efficient and less costly than finished product testing. It saves harvest, packaging and storage costs in the event the product tests positive for a pathogen. Importantly, testing lettuce prior to harvest before it’s packaged for sale to consumers also provides further assurances that potentially contaminated romaine will not find its way into marketing channels.
“We want to emphasize the Canadian government has long recognized the efforts of lettuce farmers under the LGMA to ensure safety,” continued York. “On a year-round basis, importation of leafy greens from California is limited to products supplied by certified members of the LGMA. Certified members of the LGMA must adhere to food safety requirements and are subject to regular audits by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.”
Congressman Jimmy Panetta, D –Carmel Valley, California, who represents the growers in the impacted area issued a statement last week, saying:
“Last year, Canada’s food safety testing procedures were announced and implemented tumultuously, resulting in the loss of safe, healthy product from the Salinas Valley. Since then, we have worked closely with U.S. Trade Representative, Food and Drug Administration, and US Department of Agriculture leadership, along with the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, to ensure we put forward a stronger, more efficient system. I am glad that, after months of collaboration, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has worked with LGMA and our California growers to improve the testing process and ensure Salinas Valley leafy greens can travel across our borders to feed communities around the world.”
The California LGMA is a food safety program that brings farmers together to make lettuce and leafy greens safer. LGMA members produce over 70% of the Nation’s lettuce and leafy greens – adding up to over 30 billion servings a year.
In an effort to provide consumers with safe leafy greens, the California LGMA verifies food safety practices, enforces through government audits and requires a commitment to continuous improvement. Learn more at www.lgma.ca.gov