ARCHIVED - E. coli O157:H7 Food Safety Investigation Freshpoint Toronto

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The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is committed to the continued improvement of Canada's food safety system. The CFIA is also dedicated to reporting on food safety incidents that have caused serious illnesses in Canada or have otherwise significant interest to the Canadian public.

This report provides a summary of the food safety investigation and recall activities that followed the notification of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses associated with the consumption of food products containing shredded lettuce processed at Sysco Freshcut Produce Toronto, a division of Freshpoint Vancouver, Ltd. (Freshpoint Toronto). There were 30 illnesses associated with this outbreak.

Background

On December 31, 2012, the CFIA was notified by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) of an outbreak of five E. coli O157:H7 human illnesses under investigation by the province of New Brunswick health authorities. No suspect food source had been identified.

On January 2, 2013, the CFIA was notified of an additional cluster of human illnesses in Nova Scotia. A joint investigation with the PHAC was initiated. PHAC subsequently activated an Outbreak Investigation Coordination Committee (OICC) with Health Canada, the CFIA and the New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Ontario health authorities. The epidemiological investigation to find a possible food source of illnesses helped the CFIA in identifying certain common lots of shredded lettuce distributed to several KFC and KFC-Taco Bell restaurants.

On January 4, 2013, after further traceback activities, the CFIA initiated a food safety investigation at Freshpoint Toronto, the processing facility where the implicated lettuce products originated, to determine the extent of the problem, identify possible products at risk and take necessary measures to protect the public.

Between January 10 and 12, 2013, Freshpoint Toronto, as a precautionary measure, initiated recalls of shredded lettuce products shipped to all restaurants during the period of the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak.

On January 21, 2013, at the time the OICC activities concluded, PHAC had reported a total of 30 confirmed E. coli O157:H7 illnesses related to this outbreak.

CFIA Activities

CFIA conducted a food safety investigation at Freshpoint Toronto and collected production, testing and inspection data.

At the onset of the food safety investigation, specific lot code information was not available on the suspect shredded lettuce products to confirm the source of the outbreak and take necessary recall actions. The CFIA immediately launched tracing activities to determine which lots of shredded lettuce products were in distribution during the time of the reported illnesses.

Product and water samples taken at Freshpoint Toronto for laboratory analysis were all reported negative for the presence of E. coli O157:H7.

Freshpoint Toronto initiated a recall on January 10 after having been made aware of the Health Risk Assessment conducted by Health Canada. The recall was for two specific shredded lettuce products. On January 12, on a precautionary basis, the firm voluntarily recalled an additional eighteen shredded lettuce products. The specified products and codes were produced during December 2012.

The CFIA food safety investigation also focussed on identifying the potential source of E. coli O157:H7 contamination and followed two lines of inquiry relating to the processing facility’s Good Manufacturing Practices and the imported lettuce.

With regard to the processing facility, CFIA investigators pursued all avenues including assessing production information, inspection and testing records, and incoming product documentation; and conducting additional sampling and testing.

With regard to the imported lettuce, the CFIA contacted the U.S. regulatory authorities to assist in trace back activities. The implicated products were reported to have been shipped from California.

Findings

Despite extensive efforts, the CFIA concluded that there was no evidence available to identify the source of the E. coli O157:H7 contamination.

The CFIA identified areas for improvements at the processing facility and requested the company to submit a Corrective Action Plan. The issues included the need for validation of specific product processes, enhancements in sanitation practices and equipment design, and improved documentation.

Follow-up

The company submitted a Corrective Action Plan which was considered satisfactory by the CFIA and appropriate measures were implemented immediately.

Related Public Advisories

Additional Information

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