Public health officials continue to investigate an E. coli outbreak linked to raw pet food sold under the Carnivora brand.

Of four sick people identified so far, all had the same strain of E. coli O157 infection and all had been exposed to the raw pet food for dogs who had been fed it, according to an outbreak notice posted by Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Riveriene Farm Ltd. operating as Carnivora Pet Foods of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, recalled six varieties of the Carnivora brand raw food. All were manufactured in Canada and widely distributed, possibly nationwide, according to a recall notice posted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

“The individuals became sick between early March and mid-May 2020. Two individuals have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Individuals who became ill are between 3 and 43 years of age,” the outbreak notice states.

“The collaborative outbreak investigation was initiated because reports of E. coli O157 illnesses with similar genetic fingerprints were identified. All of the individuals who became sick reported exposure to Carnivora brand frozen raw pet food purchased at various pet stores before their illnesses occurred.”

It is possible that more recent illnesses will be reported in the outbreak because of the period between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported to public health officials. For this outbreak, the illness reporting period is between three and four weeks, according to the federal health agency.

The recalled pet food is labeled as follows, it has various date codes:

  • Whole Animal Chicken Dinner with Vegetables ‘n’ Fruit, Ultra Premium Fresh Frozen Patties for Dogs & Cats
  • Chicken Dinner with Vegetables ‘n’ Fruit
  • Whole Animal Beef Dinner with Vegetables ‘n’ Fruit, Ultra Premium Fresh Frozen Patties for Dogs & Cats
  • Beef Dinner with Vegetables ‘n’ Fruit
  • Whole Animal Turkey Diet, Ultra Premium Fresh Frozen Patties for Dogs & Cats
  • Turkey Diet

This outbreak serves as a reminder that raw pet food products contain raw meat and should be handled no differently than other raw meat products. Canadians are advised not to feed any recalled Carnivora brand frozen raw pet food products to their pets. As the investigation is ongoing, it is possible that additional products will be identified. 

“If you do not have the original packaging of the Carnivora brand frozen raw pet food and are unsure whether these products are linked to this outbreak, throw them out just to be safe,” according to the public health agency.

What you should do to protect your health
Consumers should check to see if they have recalled Carnivora brand frozen raw pet food in their freezers, public health officials urge.

Use the following food safety tips to help prevent further illnesses:

  • If you have the affected product, do not feed it to your pet. Consumers should immediately stop using any of the affected pet food products and contact the retailer where they purchased the affected product for a full refund or exchange.
  • Wash and sanitize any containers, utensils and surfaces that the raw foods touched before using them again. This includes countertops, microwaves and refrigerators.
  • Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after feeding, handling or cleaning up after pets. Animals fed raw meat diets are more likely to be shedding harmful bacteria like Salmonella and dangerous strains of E. coli even when they appear healthy, compared to those fed commercial kibble or other cooked diets. Regularly clean surfaces that come into contact with pet food or pets.
  • When possible, store all pet food and treats away from where human food is stored or prepared and away from reach of young children.
  • If you suspect you have become ill after being exposed to frozen raw pet food, or pets fed these diets, and have symptoms consistent with E. coli O157 infection, talk with your health care provider.
  • The Public Health Agency of Canada does not recommend feeding raw pet food to pets, especially in households with young children, or individuals who have conditions that compromise their immune system that put them at greater risk for more serious illness. However, if you choose to feed your pet a raw food diet, it is recommended that you buy from companies that use meat-derived ingredients that have been prepared in sanitary conditions and passed inspection for human consumption. Also look for companies that have a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points protocol in place, which sets safety standards and practices, and helps to greatly reduce the risk of bacterial contamination.

About E. coli infections
Anyone who has handled any of the implicated products — or been around any pets who have eaten the food — and developed symptoms of E. coli infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctor about their possible exposure to the bacteria. Specific tests are required to diagnose the infections, which can mimic other illnesses.

The symptoms of E. coli infections vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Some patients may also have a fever. Most patients recover within five to seven days. Others can develop severe or life-threatening symptoms and complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 to 10 percent of those diagnosed with E. coli infections develop a potentially life-threatening kidney failure complication, known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Symptoms of HUS include fever, abdominal pain, feeling very tired, decreased frequency of urination, small unexplained bruises or bleeding, and pallor.

Many people with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent injuries or death. This condition can occur among people of any age but is most common in children younger than five years old because of their immature immune systems, older adults because of deteriorating immune systems, and people with compromised immune systems such as cancer patients.

People who experience HUS symptoms should immediately seek emergency medical care. People with HUS will likely be hospitalized because the condition can cause other serious and ongoing problems such as hypertension, chronic kidney disease, brain damage, and neurologic problems.

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