Dr. Doug Sider, Niagara Region’s associate medical officer of health said a food supply problem likely led to the spread of E. coli O157:H7 that has made 46 people sick and caused Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Little Red Rooster to voluntarily close its doors Oct. 24, and Welland’s M. T. Bellies Tap & Grillhouse to close its kitchen on Oct. 29.
Sider said that extensive interviews with dozens of people who ate at Little Red Rooster, including 80 people who did not become sick, suggest some type of contaminated lettuce or salad component is to blame, adding,
“All of the evidence is pointing to the fact that the restaurants were, in a way, innocent bystanders of probably some contaminated produce that was distributed.”
Another 28 people in Burlington have fallen ill in an E. coli outbreak primarily linked to Johnathan’s Family Restaurant on Fairview Street. Three cases are confirmed E. coli O157:H7, and one has a similar “fingerprint” or molecular makeup to several cases in Niagara.
Sider was further cited as saying the three affected restaurants do not share a common food supplier, which is puzzling to investigators, adding,
“That’s why we’re scratching our heads and looking farther upstream. You know, could it be a more central distributor? Places like the Ontario Food Terminal (in Toronto), where a lot of regional or local suppliers buy their produce. … The fact that we’ve got these sort of localized areas with a number of people who became ill, frankly, it’s perplexing. I can’t explain it at this point in time.”
As I’ve said before, there are no guidelines – at least not publicly available guidelines — on when to go public. Federal agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency must come clean with the public and industry and articulate the basis for public notification, or even restaurant closures, during outbreaks of foodborne illness. Until then local health units are left cleaning up the mess. Good for Dr. Sider for clearly articulating the process.