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Alberta greenhouses addressing demand for safe romaine lettuce amid E. coli outbreak

Click to play video: 'Southern Alberta greenhouse feeding romaine lettuce demand' Southern Alberta greenhouse feeding romaine lettuce demand
WATCH ABOVE: A prairie-based produce company is seeing more demand after people in Ontario and Quebec were warned about E. coli in romaine lettuce. The company grows about 12 million heads of lettuce every year and says its products have less chance of being contaminated. Kyle Benning reports – Nov 22, 2018

Whole Leaf employees are bagging as much green as they can — romaine, that is. Their southern Alberta greenhouse can produce up to 12 million heads of lettuce per year.

“You know what the climate is like in Canada — you can grow things for six months of the year and it’s hibernation for the other six months. People want their lettuce 12 months of the year,” said company shareholder Howard Kosaka.

His team is trying to fill demand for safe, clean romaine lettuce. It stems from a warning by the Public Health Agency of Canada about an E. coli outbreak linked to the vegetable.

Whole Leaf estimated it is shipping about 30 per cent more lettuce from it’s Coaldale greenhouse compared to normal.

READ MORE: Public Health says it’s not safe to eat romaine lettuce in Ontario and Quebec. So why isn’t it being recalled?

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Earlier this week, the agency announced 18 confirmed cases of the illness with three in Ontario and 15 in Quebec.

The Coaldale greenhouse uses technology that allows lettuce to grow without human contact until it’s ready to be harvested.

Agri-Food Canada said there are benefits to growing indoors, especially trying to keep produce away from potential contaminants.

“[Using cow manure is] much less common in greenhouse systems and if it is in greenhouse systems, it’s usually applied as compost,” principal research scientist Tim McAllister said.

Doef’s Greenhouses near Lacombe sent out a tweet on Thursday, reminding consumers its romaine lettuce is also safe to eat.

READ MORE: Romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak prompts warning for areas of Canada, entire U.S.

Alberta Health Services said there are a number of symptoms that come along with the illness, like vomiting and diarrhea.

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According to doctors, the best way to avoid it is to use safe, clean water when washing vegetables.

Whole Leaf spent $60 million on the greenhouse, which was up and running in June 2017.

“We’ve tried to put up a facility that would give the opportunity for people to have salad crops 12 months of the year,” Kosaka said.

READ MORE: Major grocery chains pulling romaine lettuce from Canadian stores in response to E. coli warning

It has given the company a real chance to grow. Whole Leaf is expanding its greenhouse from five acres to 10 in early 2019 with the capacity to send out up to 24 million heads of lettuce every year.

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