Walnuts suspected but not confirmed as E. coli source

The Montreal Gazette is reporting tonight that public health authorities are still trying to pin down the source of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that has claimed the life of one Quebecer, caused severe kidney complications in another, and sickened 11 others in Canada.

Not much new, other than a few quotes from some of the players.

Adel Boulos, vice-president at Amira Enterprises Inc. said Thursday none of the walnut samples — collected from the individuals who got sick, from stores and from the food importer’s warehouse, adding, "We have decided to do the recall even though none of the walnuts have tested positive. The investigation is going on and we are co-operating fully with the government to make sure that nobody gets sick."

Nathalie Levesque, a provincial Health Department official, said, "The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has serious doubts as to whether the infections are related to walnuts, but it’s the most probable source.”

Read into that what you like. If this was a homegrown product, CFIA would not be saying anything public, based on their past track record (see Maple Leaf). But when it’s imported, CFIA tends to rediscover the basics of epidemiology. Or maybe I’m wrong. If CFIA publically disclosed how, when and why they inform the public about potential food risks, and was consistent, perhaps there would be some confidence in the system.

Alice D’Anjou, a Canadian Food Inspection Agency spokeswoman said, “We got to trace these nuts right back to their source. We’re still trying to identify where the contamination happened, where the problem is, and how to fix it.”

In an advisory issued on Monday, the agency declared that "at this time, the outbreak investigation indicates that several individuals have reported consuming raw shelled walnuts.

The recalled walnuts, all imported by Amira from California, include products sold under the brand names Merit Selection and Tia. The walnuts were sold pre-packaged as well as in bulk bins.