20 sick, 1 dead from E. coli O157 in raw milk organic goat’s milk cheese; columnist says don’t overreact

As the number of people sick with E. coli O157:H7 linked to Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, climbs to 20 sick and one dead, an Edmonton Journal columnist writes that any suggestions of risk are an overreaction.

“In light of such a tragedy, it’s easy to panic, and to view cheese made from unpasteurized milk — which is legal to sell in Canada — with a jaundiced eye. Ban it! Bring on irradiation! This sort of fear-based attitude is a mistake.

“Foodborne pathogens exist. They are a fact of life — always have been, always will be. But to blame, or move to eliminate, an entire gort's.cheese.O157food culture, in existence for thousands of years, stimulating both the palate and the economy, would be an overreaction.”

Kevin Allen, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia and aging hockey player, had some sensible comments, such as,  “We can’t keep saying that, historically, there is a 60-day aging period. It’s not necessarily based on E. coli O157, which we didn’t recognize as a foodborne pathogen until 1982. … The longer the cheese is aged, the more inactivation you will have. But it’s hard to put an exact (time) on that. We don’t have the data.”

One solution, says Allen, is to conduct research into how long it takes for a pathogen to be rendered inactive. Or he says you could just pasteurize the milk used in the cheese, a heating process which, properly done, kills pathogens.

Well, that sounds simple enough. Heat the bejezus out of the stuff, and eliminate the worry, the risk, right?

The owner of a cheese shop says, “Anyone working with raw milk products has safety systems and precautions, and a system of vigilance against the proliferation of bad bacteria … and that is regulated at a federal and provincial level.”

And so are the bacteria-seeing goggles.

As usual, the Public Health Agency of Canada provides completely irrelevant information to this outbreak, and wants “to remind Canadians to follow proper hygiene and safe food handling and preparation practices to prevent the spread of all food-borne illness including E. coli. For example:

Wash your hands before and after cooking;

Keep knives, counters and cutting boards clean;

Keep raw meats separate from other foods when you store them; and

Refrigerate or freeze left-overs promptly.”

Going public fail: E. coli cheese outbreak suspected days before recall issued

My friend and hockey goon Kevin Allen at the University of British Columbia makes some good points about policy after one person died and 16 others were sickened with E. coli O157:H7 via raw Kevin-Allen-lab-horiz-284x188milk cheese in Canada.

Dr. Robert Parker, the chief medical officer for the B.C. Interior Health Authority, makes some lousy points about policy and when to go public.

According to CBC, health officials suspected an E. coli outbreak was linked to a B.C. cheese farm as early as last Friday, but waited until Tuesday to warn the public because they had to be certain of the source. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed one person has died and 10 people are ill from consuming raw milk cheese products from B.C. Gort’s Gouda has been linked to an outbreak of E. coli in B.C. and Alberta

Parker says media attention can destroy a business, and authorities wanted to be certain. He says people do not need to stop eating cheese made from raw milk, since there have not been several outbreaks. “I think if we start seeing repeated outbreaks in unpasteurized cheese products, it might be worthwhile to review again,” said Parker.

There have been endless and a disproportionately high number of outbreaks associated with raw milk cheese. Parker should know that.

Publicly available guidelines for when to go public with health information that are consistently followed by health types, would gort's.cheese.O157remove many conspiratorial elements.

Edmonton’s Annemarie McCrie ate at Gort’s Farm on Sept. 1 on her way back home from vacation in B.C. with a friend. “We wanted to stop and there’s a little sign that said ‘cheese farm’ – so I thought ‘oh, let’s go to the cheese farm,’ because everybody wants to visit a cheese farm.”

I don’t.

Kevin Allen, a University of British Columbia microbiologist, says this recall highlights the problems associated with consuming raw milk and its products. “Obviously we have a failure here,” says Allen. Allen says currently Canadian law requires raw milk cheese to be aged for 60 days in order to eliminate pathogens and make it safe, but E. coli O157 can survive well past that time and aging is not a guarantee of safety. “The problem is we have a modern-day food chain with modern-day pathogens that seem tolerant to these cheese.sample.braunwynn.05conditions that we use to render it safe,” says Allen. “I think it’s maybe time to look at our policy and maybe amend it.”

A Calgary cheesemaker whose family has been in the cheese business for roughly 300 years wants to see unpasteurized cheese banned in Canada.