When I was a kid, I had this multi-colored swim towel that stated Flower Power (right, not exactly as shown).
For the past decade, raw flour has increasingly come under the food safety microscope.
Flour was suspect in a 2008 outbreak of Salmonella in New Zealand. In June, 2009, an outbreak of shiga-toxin producing E. coli (primarily O157:H7) in Nestle Toll House cookie dough sickened at least 77 people in 30 American states. Thirty-five people were hospitalized – from flour in the cookie dough.
There was the U.S. General Mills outbreak of 2016 which sickened at least 56 people with the outbreak strain of E. coli O121 and O26, followed by a separate outbreak of E. coli O121 in Robin Hood flour in Canada in late 2016 going into 2017, that sickened at least 29.
It’s this latter outbreak that has journalist Jim Romahn’s attention.
Romahn writes the release of 759 pages of mostly e-mails indicates there was a massive effort involved in a recall of flour milled in Saskatoon that was contaminated with E. coli O121.
Twenty-two Canadians were identified as sickened by the flour, including one key case where the person consumed raw dough.
With hindsight, health officials were able to determine the first person sickened was Nov. 13, 2016. The others sickened and linked to the flour were between then and Feb. 26, 2017.
Robin Hood flour was identified as the source in March and on March 26 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency began a recall that eventually grew to scores of brand-name products across Canada and even an export shipment to Guyana.
The recall involved a number of major companies, such as Smucker Foods of Toronto and the Sobeys supermarket chain.
There were some unusual difficulties, including the challenge of contacting Mennonites who have no telephones.
The investigation and lab results eventually traced the source to flour milled at Ardent’s Saskatoon plant on Oct. 15, 16 and 17.
A high percentage of packages of flour milled on those dates turned up with E. coli O121.
But even then it’s not clear where the wheat originated.
That’s reflective of the amount of blending that happens both with the wheat used in milling and the flours that are blended into products for sale.
The documents were released under Access to Information at the request of a woman who spent time in a hospital in Medicine Hat, Alta.
An Outbreak of Shiga Toxin–Producing Escherichia coli O121 Infections Associated with Flour – Canada, 2016–2017
Morton V, Cheng JM, Sharma D, Kearney A.