Romaine lettuce swept off HK shelves amid E. coli poisoning in US

Top News | Jane Cheung and agencies 22 Nov 2018

Hong Kong has held romaine lettuce imported from the United States and Canada for tests amid outbreaks of E. coli poisoning in those countries.

The vegetable will be allowed for sale after passing tests, according to the Centre for Food Safety.

This comes after the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 32 people were reported sick from E. coli poisoning in 11 states, with 13 of them hospitalized. One of those had suffered kidney failure.

Health officials in Canada said they had also identified 18 people stricken with the same strain of food poisoning in two provinces, Ontario and Quebec.

No deaths in either country have been reported.

A spokesman said the CFS has contacted US and Canadian authorities to gain more details, including the origins of the affected produce.

He said E. coli cases initially emerged in April in the United States, after which the center suspended the import of romaine lettuce from Arizona.

The CFS has listed the issue in its Food Incident Post to alert Hongkongers and enhanced random checks on romaine lettuce.

Steven Ho Chun-yin, lawmaker for the agriculture and fisheries functional constituency, urged the government to suspend the import of romaine lettuce until the source of infection has been confirmed.

"The US and Canadian health authorities have not confirmed the source of the bacteria and we must handle the issue with care," he said.

"Wholesalers and retailers should suspend supply of the vegetable."

Ho and fellow Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong lawmaker Elizabeth Quat Pui-fan urged Hongkongers not to consume romaine lettuce but, if they want to, should properly cook it.

In the United States, health officials warned consumers not to eat the vegetable and to throw away any they might have in their homes ahead of today's Thanksgiving holiday, when American families gather and feast together.

"Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

"This advice includes all types or uses of romaine lettuce, such as whole heads, romaine hearts, and bags and boxes of precut lettuce and salad mixes that contain romaine, including baby romaine, spring mix, and Caesar salad," the CDC said, noting it had not been able to pinpoint where the suspect leaves originated.

It added: "If you do not know if the lettuce is romaine or whether a salad mix contains romaine, do not eat it and throw it away."

It advised those who stored romaine lettuce in their refrigerator to wash down the shelves where the leaves had been kept.

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

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