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Lack of Romaine lettuce recall leaves grocers in a lurch

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Grocery chains across Canada moved quickly to take Romaine lettuce that could be contaminated with E. coli off their shelves on Wednesday. But the lack of a formal recall notice for the product has made things more difficult by muddying the waters of who will pay for all that wasted food.

Health authorities in the U.S. and Canada issued expanded warnings this week about Romaine lettuce that has so far been blamed for sickening 18 people in Ontario and Quebec, one in New Brunswick and an additional 32 Americans across 11 states.

A particularly virulent strain — E. coli O157 — is the suspected culprit, and officials believe the source of the outbreak may be a single source of the vegetable that has yet to be isolated, coming in contact with infected animal feces at some point during the farming process.

Health Canada issued a public notice on Tuesday advising Canadians to avoid the vegetable until further notice, and the U.S. Centres for Disease Control is giving similar advice.

Both warnings fall short of a formal recall mandating the removal of the product but some of Canada’s largest grocery chains have pulled it from their shelves anyway.

“Out of an abundance of caution,” grocery giant Loblaw told CBC News in a statement Wednesday, “Loblaw Companies Limited is recalling and removing from store shelves across the country all romaine lettuce products.”

Montreal-based chain Metro Inc. echoed that sentiment, noting that all the chain’s Canadian stores “have preventatively and temporarily removed from our shelves all romaine lettuce.”

Romaine lettuce is included in more than 300 different products sold by Nova Scotia-based Sobey’s Inc., and it too has acted swiftly to get all of them off the shelves across the country.

“It’s complex, but it shouldn’t stop you from doing the right thing,” said Lyne Castonguay, the chains’ executive vice-president of customer experience in an interview.

But that poses a logistical problem for retailers. Because, unlike safety issues with consumer goods like automobiles and other products, the complicated series of rules about who covers the cost of disposal and replacement doesn’t come into effect until a recall notice has been issued.

Since that doesn’t exist in this case, grocery chains must eat that cost until the supplier responsible for the problem can be identified.

While Sobey’s declined to offer specifics or what removing the lettuce has cost so far, in the meantime “it is on us and it’s millions of dollars,” Castonguay said. “But… there’s no amount of money that’s worth having somebody sick or having a fatality.”

A similar outbreak last year sickened people and it, too, wasn’t met with an immediate recall. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

Jason McLinton, the vice-president of the grocery division and regulatory affairs with the Retail Council of Canada, says his organization has noticed a marked increase of these situations in recent years, where a food item may be unsafe, but no formal recall order has been issued by authorities.

“We are seeing more and more of these ‘do not consume’ advisories being issued and it’s new to consumers and people don’t know quite know what to make of it,” he said in an interview. 

“That puts members in a very challenging situation [and] it’s causing quite a bit of confusion in the marketplace.”

With millions of products on their shelves, grocery chains rely on agreements with thousands of suppliers for what to do when they are found to be defective. “This territory is not well known as compared with something like a recall,” McLinton says, “where things like that tend to be built in directly into the contractual arrangements that retailers get into with their vendors and producers.”

The industry found itself in the same situation last year, when a similar strain of E. coli linked to infected lettuce sickened dozens across the continent. Then, too, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency warned Canadians not to consume the product, but fell short of issuing a formal recall notice.

“It’s the same playbook [as last year],” Prof. Keith Warriner, a microbiologist specializing in food safety at the University of Guelph told CBC News this week. “They seem to be saying, ‘We’re not going to recall it, but we advise you not to eat it.’ Which I think is a bad thing because it gives confusion.” 

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency told CBC News in a statement Wednesday why the bar for an official recall has yet to be hit. “If a specific brand and/or source of romaine lettuce or other product is identified in the investigation, CFIA will take appropriate action,” the agency said. “If a food recall warning is issued, CFIA would verify that the food industry and retailers remove the recalled products from the marketplace.”

Neither the Canadian or American food safety investigation have been able to identify a specific product of concern in the Canadian or American market place. All products tested as part of the investigation have been negative so far.”

For its part, the federal government would say only that is is monitoring the situation to get more information.

“It’s certainly a complex situation,” Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said. “I encourage all Canadians to follow the warnings that are put out there.”

“I have confidence in the staff [that] they’re doing the investigations and will do all they can to get to the bottom of this.”

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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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