People who fell ill after visiting the Russian pavilion at Winnipeg’s Folklorama in August had likely eaten fruit compote contaminated with E. coli,  according to the Winnipeg Health Authority.

A report published by the Winnipeg Health Region said 37 of the 40 people who were infected with the same strain of E. coli had either attended events at the pavilion or fell victim to secondary spread of the E. coli bacterium.   Only three of the 40 cases were not linked to the pavilion.

Five people were admitted to the hospital, one person required intensive care, 17 people  visited an emergency room and one developed hemolytic uremic syndrome.

Investigators looked at items that had been served together on a “Russian Combination platter,” including borscht, meatballs, a rice dish and Russian juice (fruit compote).  They eventually singled out the compote as the likely source of contamination because it was served with both vegetarian and non-vegetarian platters.

Cross-contamination from raw or undercooked ground beef, which was being handled at the same time in the kitchen, was a plausible source of the E. coli.

Kitchen staff members told investigators that most of the food had been cooked in a pressure cooker, but the compote juice was prepared in a separate pot by boiling unpeeled apples, blueberries and blackberries, decanting the juice and then chilling it to serve cold.  The fresh fruit had been purchased at a local supermarket.