E. coli In Frozen Burger Patties Now At 7 Confirmed Cases

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Public Health Notice: E. coli O157:H7 illness related to frozen beef burgers

Public Health Agency of Canada

Updated: 22 February 2013

Why you should take note

Through ongoing monitoring and surveillance activities, two additional cases of E. coli O157:H7 illness have been confirmed as part of this outbreak investigation; one in Manitoba and one in Ontario. This brings the total number of cases to seven: four in Ontario, two in Alberta and one in Manitoba. These individuals became ill between late December and late January. All cases have recovered or are recovering.

The two most recent cases are linked to recalled Gourmet Meat Shoppe Big and Juicy frozen beef burgers.

The risk to Canadians remains low because all products found to be contaminated were recalled from store shelves. It remains important that Canadians not eat any of the recalled beef products. Check your freezer and if you have recalled products in your home, return them to the store or throw them out.

Products contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 can pose a serious public health risk. We want to remind Canadians to take precautions to avoid food-borne illness, for example:

  • Cook meat to a safe internal temperature—use a food thermometer to be sure;
    • Thick burgers like the ones recalled need to be cooked longer than regular sized ones to be sure they’re safe.
  • 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.

The Public Health Agency of Canada continues to lead the coordination of the investigation into this outbreak in close collaboration with its health and food safety partners.

Additional cases of illness may be identified and linked to this outbreak in the future.

Status

Investigations into outbreaks of food-borne illness can be complex. Since early December 2012, the Agency has been leading a committee that includes public health and food safety experts from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and Provincial and Territorial Health Authorities. The committee meets regularly to share and review the latest information and determine what actions should be taken to protect Canadians.

Based on all the information collected to date – epidemiological, microbiological and food safety – the following cases of illness are linked to the specific strain of E. coli O157 found in the recalled frozen beef burgers. More information about the epidemiological investigation is also available.

Province / Territory Total cases
  Alberta 2
  Ontario 4
  Manitoba 1
  Total 7

Over the course of the investigation, an additional reported case of E. coli O157:H7 illness was found to have the same strain of E. coli as one found in a recalled product. However, the case could not be definitively linked to the outbreak associated with this investigation because there was not enough food history information available to connect the individual with the contaminated product. This individual died in early December as a result of the illness.

More information about products that have been recalled and how that aspect of the investigation has unfolded, is available on the CFIA website.

E. coli O157 food-borne illnesses are not uncommon in Canada and no unusual increases in the number of these illnesses have been detected nationally.

What you should do

Most strains of E. coli are harmless; however, some strains, such as E. coli O157:H7, can make people sick, causing severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Serious complications of an E. coli O157:H7 infection can include kidney failure.

If you think you are sick with an E. coli O157:H7 infection, consult a healthcare professional.

Symptoms of an E. coli O157:H7 infection

Like other food-borne illnesses, the symptoms of E. coli infection mainly involve the gut. Symptoms may vary from person to person; however, they often include:

  • severe stomach cramps;
  • diarrhea (often watery and may develop into bloody);
  • vomiting; and
  • fever (generally not very high – usually less than 38.5˚C/101˚F).

Symptoms usually last five to seven days.

Overall, around 5 to 10 per cent of those who get sick from E. coli O157:H7 develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), an acute renal failure which can be fatal. Of those, children younger than 5 years old and the elderly are at greatest risk of developing HUS. Symptoms of HUS vary. Some people have seizures or strokes and some need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others live with side effects such as permanent kidney damage.

Who is most at risk?

Infections can occur among people of all ages, however symptoms are likely to be more severe among the very young and the elderly.  Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are also at high risk of developing serious complications.

How to protect yourself

Proper hygiene and safe food handling and preparation practices are key to preventing the spread of all food-borne illnesses, including E. coli.

Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of foodborne illness.

Contaminated foods may look and smell normal. It is important to ensure that you thoroughly cook foods to destroy bacteria. Recalled products, however, should not be consumed and should be thrown away.

 

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