The Public Health Agency of Canada has confirmed 27 cases of E. coli O121 infections across five Canadian provinces since November 2016 that have been linked to flour produced by Ardent Mills Canada. A 28th victim was a visitor to the country.
Seven of the outbreak victims were hospitalized, but are recovering. No deaths have been reported in relation to the outbreak.
E. coli O121 is a Shiga toxin-producing strain of E. coli. In recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it has been responsible for outbreaks associated with flour, frozen foods and raw clover sprouts.
Provinces reporting illnesses and the number of cases in each are:
- British Columbia, 12;
- Saskatchewan 4;
- Alberta 5;
- Ontario 1; and
- Newfoundland and Labrador 5.
The country of origin of the affected visitor was not released. The 14 male and 14 female victims range in age from 8 years to 79 years, with an average of 24 years.
On March 28 the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), in concert with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), informed the public that “Original Robin Hood All Purpose Flour” was confirmed to be contaminated with the outbreak strain of E. coli O121.
Smucker Foods of Canada Corp. recalled an undisclosed amount of the Robin Hood branded flour on March 28. Robin Hood has been a member of the Smucker family of brands in Canada since 2004. Consumers and others can identify the recalled 10-kilogram bags of flour by looking for the following label information:
- UPC number 0 59000 01652 8; and
- Product code containing BB/MA 2018 AL 17 and 6 291 548
Ardent Mills Canada is the manufacturer of Robin Hood Flour. In a statement released April 16, the company acknowledged that it was “… aware of one illness associated with the consumption of flour,” but emphasized that no illnesses were linked to the additional products included in subsequent recall notices.
The additional recalls are a result either of the detection of E. coli O121 in a sample of the production lot or a determination that the product was manufactured using the same source material as a product that tested positive for E. coli O121, according to CFIA.
“One specific product has been directly linked to a case of illness,” a CFIA spokesperson told Food Safety News. “Other products with specific production dates, while not linked to specific cases of illness, have been analyzed by our laboratory and found to contain the same type of E. coli that is of concern in the outbreak.”
So far, CFIA has not carried out environmental sampling in the production facility, but has focussed of sampling flour products on the market.
The genetic pattern of the Canadian outbreak strain is unrelated to the strain of E. coli O121 that was responsible for an outbreak of more that 60 illnesses in the U.S. in 2016. That outbreak was traced to flour produced by a General Mills facility in Kansas City, MO.
All of the recalled Ardent Mills products were manufactured in one facility, during a three week period from Oct.14 to Nov.3, 2016.
Some of the products were distributed to retailers, including Costco Canada, while others were supplied to hotels, restaurants, and institutional customers. Additional brand names of the recalled flour include: Arrezzio, BakerSource, Brodie, Creative Baker, GFS, Golden Temple, Great Canadian Bagel, Kitchen Essentials, Robin Hood, and Sunspun.
A consolidated list of recalled products is available at eFoodAlert.
What consumers need to know
Symptoms of infection with shiga-toxin producing strains of E. coli, including E. coli O121, usually appear from one to 10 days following initial infection, and may include severe stomach cramps, watery or bloody diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and headache. Typically, there is little or no fever.
Some individuals develop no symptoms whatsoever, while others can become severely ill and require hospitalization. Those at greatest risk of developing serious complications are pregnant women, individuals with compromised immune systems, young children and older adults.
The PHAC advises consumers to check their homes to see if they have any of the contaminated flour and take the following precautions if they have it. If you have any of the recalled products in your home or place of business:
- Do not use or eat recalled flour or flour products. If you have a recalled flour product in your home, secure the recalled product in a plastic bag and throw it out or return it to the store where it was purchased for a refund.
- If you have flour without its original packaging and are unsure if it is included in the food recall, throw it out just to be safe.
- Thoroughly wash any containers that were used to store the recalled product before using them again.
- If you suspect you may have used recalled flour to make baked goods or a non-baked product, such as children’s play-dough, throw it out. Wash all surfaces or containers where the product may have been used or stored.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water immediately following any contact with the recalled product.
- Do not taste raw dough, batter or any other product containing uncooked flour. Eating a small amount could make you sick.
- Bake or cook items made with raw dough or batter before eating them.
- Always use hot water and soap to wash any bowls, utensils, or surfaces that flour was used on.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water immediately after touching flour, raw dough or batter.
- Contact your healthcare provider if you think you have become ill from eating raw dough or batter or from consuming or handling a flour product and tell them about the possible exposure to pathogens so the proper diagnostic tests can be done.
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