FREDERICTON (GNB) – The results of a case control study indicate that romaine lettuce was the likely source of the recent E. coli outbreak in the Miramichi area.

"All cases of E. coli 0157:H7 included in the study were exposed to romaine lettuce at Jungle Jim's restaurant in Miramichi," said Dr. Eilish Cleary, chief medical officer of health. "The lettuce was used in salads, as an ingredient in wraps and hamburgers and as a garnish. These results indicate a strong likelihood that contaminated lettuce was served at the restaurant."

The case control study, which was conducted in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada, focused on the food items eaten by those who dined at Jungle Jim's between April 23 and April 26.

Fifty-five people participated in the study, including 18 individuals who became sick and 37 individuals who did not get sick. The menu items eaten by these two groups were compared.

Information from the case control study will assist in strengthening food safety measures aimed at preventing such outbreaks in the future.

During the investigation, the federal agency became aware that cases matching the E. coli strain involved in the Miramichi outbreak had also been identified in Quebec and California. The agency co-ordinated an investigation with other partners that pointed toward romaine lettuce as the source of the illnesses. The lettuce is no longer in the marketplace, and the investigation has been closed.

"Individuals who prepare food are reminded that proper food handling techniques greatly reduce the risk of E. coli contamination," said Cleary. "For example, if a piece of lettuce is contaminated with E. coli but is thoroughly washed before being served, the risk of passing along the bacteria to consumers is greatly reduced."

Individuals should take the following precautions to avoid food-borne illness:

●    regularly wash your hands, especially after using the washroom and/or when preparing food;
●    wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them;  
●    properly cook meat; and
●    use warm soapy water or a chlorine-based or other approved sanitizers to clean knives,  cutting boards, utensils, your hands and any counters or surfaces that have come in contact with food, especially meat and fish.