Romaine suspect in Ontario E. coli outbreak

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By David Mitchell

(Nov. 14, 10:15 a.m.) Public health officials in Ontario are investigating whether an E. coli outbreak is linked to romaine lettuce.

According to public health agencies in Niagara, Halton, Guelph and Waterloo, there were 27 confirmed illnesses as of Nov. 13. More than 140 other cases remained under investigation.

Ontario typically has about 350 cases of E. coli in an entire year.

Andrew Morrison, spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, said there also is one confirmed case in Quebec and another in British Columbia.

A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that agency is investigating the outbreak as well, but no cases had been confirmed in the U.S. as of Nov. 13. She declined to say which states CDC investigators were scrutinizing.

The U.S., however, still could be linked to the outbreak.

Multiple clusters of illnesses have been reported in Ontario. Rene Cardinal, national manager of the fresh fruit and vegetables program of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said that at one of the three restaurants that were temporarily closed because of the outbreak, epidemiology points to romaine lettuce from California as a possible cause.

“In one place lettuce seems to be the common food eaten by people that got sick,” he said, “but that’s only one place. It’s one of the suspected items.”

Cardinal said Canada’s growing season was wrapping up by the time the outbreak hit in late October. Morrison said new onset dates have been reported as recently as Nov. 3, and officials are treating the situation as an ongoing.

All three restaurants — Johnathan’s Family Restaurant, Burlington; M.T. Bellies Tap, Welland; and the Little Red Rooster, Niagara-on-the-Lake — have reopened, as has a high-school cafeteria in Waterloo.

Cardinal said the outbreak is not related to an outbreak that led to 38 reported illnesses in Michigan, nine in Illinois and three in Ontario in September and October. Michigan officials linked that outbreak to California-grown iceberg lettuce that was distributed by Detroit processor and distributor Aunt Mid’s.

Cardinal said the current outbreak is also unrelated to another recent E. coli outbreak that led to 50 confirmed cases and more than 200 suspected cases in Ontario. That was linked to one North Bay restaurant, Harvey’s, which was closed for a month before reopening Nov. 12.

Morrison said samples from that outbreak had a different genetic fingerprint than the more recent outbreak. No source has been determined in the Harvey’s case.

“All tests came back negative,” Morrison said.



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