Belle Bourque spent almost a month in hospital with E. coli and is now sharing her experience with others to help them avoid it.  

Bourque ate at a restaurant over the holidays and ended up in hospital in intensive care afterwards. She soon learned she had eaten contaminated lettuce.

“You know, one minute you’re healthy, you’re living a normal life and then ‘boom,’ you’re dying,” says the Westville, N.S. resident.

She spent nearly a month in hospital as E. coli bacteria attacked her kidneys.

“I’m sure if it wasn’t for the good doctors and the good Lord and all the prayers, I wouldn’t be here.”

Bourque’s case was one of more than a dozen confirmed in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, along with 13 in Ontario.

Lettuce distributed to KFC and Taco Bell is believed to be the source of the outbreak.

Bourque says proper food handling should always be a priority, whether you’re cooking in your kitchen at home, a chef at a restaurant, or working in a distribution plant.

“Inspecting maybe more often…not letting them know you’re coming,” she suggests as ways to deal with the issue.

Mike Horwich, the director of Nova Scotia Agriculture and Food Protection, says an inspection protocol based on risk is in place.

“We have a tremendous inspection system. The industry is very diligent in terms of food safety.”

Horwich says Nova Scotia has one of the most stringent food safety regulations in the country.

When it comes to E. coli, the focus is on four areas: meat, produce, water and personnel.

“In Nova Scotia there are in excess of half a million meals served everyday. So, our record in terms of E. coli infections is pretty good in the province. However, they do occur,” says Horwich.

Bourque is now home and off dialysis. Her kidneys are working again but she still has blood work done once a week, and homecare helps with some of the housework.

Her family hopes others take note.

“Really, we should be paying more attention to it, you know, because we’re all at risk,” says husband Jim Bourque.

He says the situation has made them more aware and cautious, especially when it comes to lettuce.

No one in the Bourque family has eaten lettuce since Belle fell ill, and they don’t plan to unless it comes out of their own garden.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Jacqueline Foster