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Food and agriculture

Hong Kong halts sale and import of California romaine lettuce, blamed for North American E coli outbreak

  • Trade in the product has been suspended with immediate effect after US Food and Drink Administration linked it to spate of food poisoning
  • All romaine lettuce coming into Hong Kong has been seized for testing before it can be released to the market
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 11:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2018, 2:55am

Hong Kong has suspended the sale and import of romaine lettuce – also known as cos – harvested in California after US food safety investigators found the vegetable grown in the state appeared to be the source of the recent E coli outbreak in North America.

In a statement on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety said the import and sale of romaine lettuce harvested in California “has been suspended with immediate effect”.

The centre also urged the trade to stop using and selling romaine lettuce produced in California immediately and asked the public not to eat such lettuce from California or unknown sources.

A centre spokesman said: “The [centre] has been closely following up on the US romaine lettuce incident and has earlier held all romaine lettuce from the US and Canada for testing at the import level.

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“According to the latest information provided by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) upon investigation, the outbreaks of E coli infection were likely linked to romaine lettuce harvested in California. The [centre] has decided to immediately suspend the import into and sale within Hong Kong of romaine lettuce harvested in the area concerned.”

According to US media reports, the FDA did not yet have enough information to name a specific grower or distributor.

In North America, an outbreak of E coli linked to romaine lettuce has over the past month made at least 43 people sick in 12 states across the US, plus another 22 people in Canada, according to the FDA.

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In Hong Kong, the food safety centre last week asked the public to avoid eating romaine lettuce from the US and Canada, and detained all romaine lettuce imported from the two countries for testing. The produce will only be released to the market if satisfactory test results are obtained.

E coli is a bacterium that is commonly found in the gut of humans and warm-blooded animals. Most strains of E coli are harmless. Some strains, however, can produce powerful toxins and cause severe food-borne disease.

People can contract  E coli, which causes gastrointestinal disease, by consuming contaminated water or undercooked and contaminated foods. E coli cannot survive under high temperatures and can be killed by thorough cooking, according to the Hong Kong Department of Health.