By David F. Rooney
The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and Interior Health have issued a public health alert after 11 people across BC and Alberta came down with symptoms of an e.coli infection. One person died.
The public health alert calls on people to avoid consuming cheese products from Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm of Salmon Arm. The cheese is contaminated with e. coli O157:H7.
Dr. Eleni Galanis, an epidemiologist with the BCCDC, told reporters participating in a teleconference on Tuesday, September 17, that four people were confirmed victims of the bacterial illness. Citing privacy legislation, she would not identify the locations of these people, their ages or any other information that might be used to identify them.
Health Canada said one resident of the Interior who had the same strain of E. coli and ate Gort’s gouda died in late August. However, the Centre for Disease Control has yet to conclusively link the cheese to the person’s death. There were also seven cases of in Alberta.
Anyone who has purchased this cheese should dispose of it immediately, Dr. Galanis said.
The first case of illness was reported in July but the bulk of the infections did not become apparent until late August and early September, Dr. Galanis said.
This strain of Escherichia coli infects the digestive tract of animals. Most e.coli strains are harmless but some can cause severe illness — even death. E. coli O157:H7 can cause stomach cramps and mild to severe diarrhea that can be bloody. Symptoms start two to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria, and usually last between five to 10 days.
The farm operator has agreed to halt any further shipments of cheese products and to stop selling cheese to the public at the farm. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is also stepping in to investigate the cause of the outbreak.
Meanwhile, dairy deliveryman Tim Dolan, who had been distributing Gort’s products for years said he wanted to reassure his many customers in Revelstoke and Salmon Arm that “Gort’s milk is safe.” He urged his customers to toss out their gouda cheeses as a formal recall from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is expected shortly.
“Gort’s Gouda has stopped processing it’s cheese until further notice,” he told The Current. “Please contact me if you have any concerns or questions.”
The illnesses began in July with the majority of infected people displaying symptoms in late August to early September. According to the BCCDC:
- E. coli infection may cause mild to severe symptoms including watery diarrhea and stomach cramps. In severe cases, diarrhea may become bloody;
- Fever is rare; and
- Symptoms start an average of 3 to 4 days (range: 2 to 10 days) after exposure to the bacteria, and usually last between 5 to 10 days.
A statement from the Public Health Agency of Canada said there is currently “no indication of widespread risk to Canadians.” However, it said E.coli O157:H7 can pose a serious public health risk. Additional cases of illness may be identified and linked to this outbreak in the future.
“We want to remind Canadians,” that statement said, ” to follow proper hygiene and safe food handling and preparation practices to prevent the spread of all food-borne illness including E.coli for example:
- Wash your hands before and after cooking;
- Keep knives, counters and cutting boards clean;
- Keep raw meats separate from other foods when you store them; and
- Refrigerate or freeze left-overs promptly.”
A call from The Current to Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm was not returned.