Was it walnuts? E. coli O157:H7 update in Canada

Some were wondering yesterday if Amira-imported walnuts from California was the source of an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in Canada that has sickened 13 and linked to one death.

Keith Warriner of the University of Guelph said there appear to be some unanswered questions in the federal government’s food-safety investigation, so he wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out walnuts aren’t to blame for an outbreak of E. coli in three provinces.

"I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be more like the tomato recall we had," he said Friday.

This is how a single food agency apparently works in Canada:

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Sunday announced a voluntary recall of shelled walnut products imported from California by Montreal-based Amira Enterprises Inc., because they may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria. The agency took action based on information provided by the Canadian Public Health Agency and a risk assessment by Health Canada.

In fact, a senior public health official said Friday there is "no evidence" the Quebecer who died of E. coli illness actually ate any of the walnuts thought to be behind the outbreak. "When we bring information from different people together, they share something in common, and in this particular case, we were looking at food consumption, and this individual did not fit the same pattern," said Dr. Mark Raizenne of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Of the 12 people who were able to provide information about their food consumption history to the Canadian Public Health Agency as part of the investigation, four people reported they hadn’t consumed walnuts.
Those hit by the outbreak consumed foods typically associated with E. coli, such as ground beef, but there was no overlapping brand -meaning the "likely source based on the information that we have" is walnuts, said Raizenne.

To date, no Amira walnut product has tested positive for E. coli, according to CFIA.

Meanwhile, CFIA last night announced the fingered raw shelled walnuts were also available in Vancouver (that’s in Canada) and should be avoided.

Not that it matters, because CBC reported yesterday that those same walnuts are still on store shelves in Montreal.

University of Manitoba food sciences professor Rick Holley said the CFIA does not have the resources to do a proper followup.

"It’s one thing to make a recall, it’s another thing to make sure it happens.”