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Edmonton eatery linked to E. coli illnesses; food source unclear

Alberta Health Services (AHS) Environmental Public Health in Edmonton, Canada, is investigating to determine the source of five confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7 and  Mama Nita’s Filipino Cuisine restaurant is the suspected source of the outbreak.

While the investigation into the exact cause is ongoing, AHS during the past week has determined that food from Mama Nita’s Binalot at 1519 Lakewood Road in Edmonton is associated with the five lab-confirmed cases of E. coli.

Dr. Jasmine Hasselback, medical officer for the AHS Edmonton zone, said the restaurant is close in time and close in place to those infected. But so far, there is not a common or particular food consumed at the restaurant to actually link all the cases.

Hasselback wants to be clear that anyone who ate at Mama Nita’s could have been exposed to the bacteria and should make that clear if they become ill and seek medical attention.

Rachel Ontog, Mama Nita’s owner, says none of the restaurant’s foodservice workers are ill. AHS is working to make sure that everyone at the restaurant understands the food safety basics about hygiene and cooking.

To date, none of the illnesses have required hospitalization and have not resulted in complications.

As a precaution, AHS wants anyone who ate at the restaurant on and/or after March 15 to monitor themselves for symptoms. The predominant symptom associated with E. coli O157:H7 is diarrhea, which may be bloody. In more severe forms of the disease, a form of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)  can develop.

Symptoms usually start one to 10 days after eating food contaminated with E. coli bacteria. If you are concerned or start to develop symptoms, please visit a health care clinic or your family physician as soon as possible. It’s important that you mention your possible exposure to E. coli O157:H7 so proper testing and treatment can be determined.

The incubation period for E. coli typically runs from one to ten days, meaning the time from exposure to show symptoms. While most people recover on their own, complications involving HUS can turn deadly, especially for high-risk groups.

Children, the elderly and the immunocompromised people such as cancer patients are at greater risk of complications from E. coli O157:H7.

Operators of the restaurant have been cooperative with public health officials. Environmental Public Health inspected the restaurant on March 27. The investigation is ongoing.

While it is known those individuals identified to date with lab-confirmed E. coli O157:H7 ate food from the restaurant, neither Mama Nita’s nor any of its workers have been confirmed as the source. The restaurant has been identified as a precautionary measure with the full cooperation of its operators.

Environmental public health staff are working closely with the restaurant operator and staff to increase safety there and reduce risk. These measures include increased hand hygiene measures, food safety re-education for staff and close monitoring of food handling practices.

Advice from public health officials
E. coli infections are generally caused when a person eats food or drinks a beverage that is contaminated with human or animal feces. The infection can also be spread through direct contact with a person who is infected or by animals that carry the bacteria.

According to AHS, these proper hygienes and safe food handling and preparation practices will reduce their risk of E. coli infection:

  • Wash your hands with hot, soapy water often, including after you go to the washroom before you prepare food after you touch raw meat and after you change diapers.
  • Avoid preparing food for others when ill with diarrhea.
  • Cook beef and pork to at least 71 °C (160 °F).
  • Thoroughly wash vegetables and fruits before eating.
  • Thoroughly wash all kitchen tools and surfaces that have touched raw meat.
  • Use only pasteurized milk, dairy, and juice products.

Be sure that water used for drinking or food preparation is from approved sources, including municipal water supplies or properly maintained/treated well water.
When you travel to countries that may have unsafe drinking water, don’t use ice or drink tap water, and avoid consuming raw fruits and vegetables, except those with skin that you peel yourself.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than 4 million adults and children living in the Canadian province of Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

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