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Romaine lettuce warning

UPDATE: 10:22 a.m.

When news broke Tuesday that consumers should avoid eating romaine lettuce because of an E. coli outbreak, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention swiftly demanded retailers remove the vegetable from store shelves and restaurants stop including it in meals.

But in Canada, the country's public health and food inspection agencies stopped short of insisting on its removal, despite it being linked to the illnesses of 18 people in Ontario and Quebec — six required hospitalization.

Experts said the difference in approach likely stems from how many cases there are, how cautious nations want to be about protecting industries and how certain authorities are about the outbreak's origins.

Norman Neumann, the vice-dean of the University of Alberta's School of Public Health, said during outbreaks impacting Canada and the U.S., health bodies from both countries will likely consult each other on investigating the source, but don't always co-ordinate their responses.

He suspects the U.S. has gone a step further than Canada in part because U.S. authorities reported 32 cases of E. coli, 13 of which involved a person who was hospitalized.

"The caseloads are higher in the U.S., so it might suggest a little bit more of a severe response," he said.

Pinpointing the exact cause of the outbreak can be difficult because public health officials often have to search for similarities in places those who fall ill have visited or what they've eaten.

It can take a week for symptoms to appear in some cases and by then, asking someone to recall everything they ate the week before might be difficult and thus, impact a health agency's comfort in taking action against a particular source of the outbreak, Neumann said.

"When there are outbreaks, certain things have been implicated only to find out years later the epidemiology evidence wasn't sound or secure," he said. "You can pinpoint a potential source only to find out a few weeks, months or years later it was maybe not the source and we ruined an industry in response."


ORIGINAL: 9:45 a.m.

Salad lovers beware -- food regulators in Canada and the U.S. are warning people to not consume romaine lettuce because of potential E. coli contamination.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says a possible outbreak has sickened 18 people in Ontario and Quebec, while 32 people across 11 states have reportedly fallen ill.

While most romaine sold this time of year is grown in California, investigators say tracing the source of the contamination can be difficult because the produce is often repackaged by middlemen.



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