Public Health Notice: E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in the Maritimes and Ontario
Updated: 18 January 2013
Why you should take note
Since our last update, 1 additional case of E. coli O157:H7 illness was confirmed in New Brunswick as part of this outbreak. This brings the total number of cases to 30. These individuals became ill between late December and early January.
The latest evidence in the Public Health Agency of Canada’s food-borne illness investigation indicates that the most probable cause of the E. coli O157:H7 illnesses in the Maritimes and Ontario is shredded lettuce distributed by FreshPoint Inc. primarily to some KFC and KFC-Taco Bell restaurants. The products were not distributed to grocery stores.
Lettuce has a short shelf life, therefore contaminated products are unlikely to still be available.
As a precaution, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is working with FreshPoint Inc. to recall any remaining affected products. At this point, the source of contamination for the shredded lettuce has not been determined. The CFIA has traced the lettuce to its origin in California and has notified U.S. authorities of this finding. The CFIAis verifying that appropriate food safety controls were followed at each step of production, processing and distribution. Immediate action will be taken to ensure that any unsafe food is removed from the marketplace.
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. There are 7 cases in New Brunswick, 10 in Nova Scotia and 13 in Ontario. The majority of cases have recovered or are recovering. Additional cases of illness may be identified and linked to this outbreak in the future.
Products contaminated with E. coli O157 can pose a serious public health risk.
Investigations into outbreaks of food-borne illness can be complex. Since early January 2013, the Agency has been leading a committee to investigate these illnesses that includes public health and food safety experts from the CFIA, Health Canada and Provincial Health Authorities. The committee meets regularly to share and review the latest information and determine what actions should be taken to protect Canadians.
The Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and provincial health and food safety authorities will continue their investigation to determine if additional action is required to protect Canadians.
More information about the epidemiological investigation is also available.
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E. coli O157 food-borne illnesses are not uncommon in Canada. In recent years, an average of about 440 cases of this type of E. coli infection was reported annually in Canada.
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 infection, consult a healthcare professional.
Symptoms of an E. coli O157:H7 infection
Like other foodborne 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 foodborne 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 wash your fruits and vegetables before eating them, and cook meat to a safe internal temperature.