E. coli O157:H7 linked to Western Fair in London, Canada, again, 10 years after 159 sickened

There are more people tragically sick with E. coli O157:H7 from what looks like another petting zoo.

But this would be especially tragic – or hopelessly sad — if proven.

In 1999, 159 people, mainly children, were thought to be sickened with E. coli O157:H7 traced to goat and sheep at the 1999 Western Fair in London, Ontario. That’s in Canada.

Scott Weese, a clinical studies professor at the University of Guelph (that’s also in Canada) and colleagues reported in the July 2007 edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases that in a study of 36 petting zoos in Ontario between May and October of 2006, they observed infrequent hand washing, food sold and consumed near the animals, and children being allowed to drink bottles or suck on pacifiers in the petting area.

There’s been several outbreaks linked to petting zoos and state fairs in the U.K., Vancouver and Denver; and that’s just this year. A complete table of outbreaks is available at http://barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu/uploads/file/Petting%20zoo%20outbreaks%20chart%20bites(1).pdf.

Now, 10 years later, initial reports are emerging that four people who visited the Western Fair Agri-plex (that’s in London, Ontario, Canada) sometime between September 11 and 20, 2009, have been infected with the same strain of E. coli O157:H7.

The health unit is asking anyone who developed severe diarrhea after visiting the Western Fair to contact them at (519) 663-5317 ext 2330.

Hamburger, meat and foodborne illness. Who’s to blame? And how do petting zoos fit into this worldview

Amy is a carnivore. First time I went to dinner at her place, almost four years ago, we couldn’t decide what to eat. Eventually, Amy said, let’s go to the supermarket, get a couple of steaks, and grill at home.

I was in love.

Amy’s grill (right) served us well, but the years took its toll. So we splurged and got a new BBQ – the Weber Genesis — which I used for the first time last night. Whenever we get a new car, or grill, or pretty much anything, since I insist on owning things for 10 years until they are completely spent, I marvel at the technological advances. It was awesome.

We grill meat and vegetables pretty much every day. And maybe it’s not so cool after last weeks tragic story of E. coli O157:H7 victim Stephanie Smith, but we eat hamburgers – make them at home from ground beef and turkey.

The news is confusing: The N.Y. Times feature by Michael Moss that started the latest round of confusion said hamburger trim was mixed together from all sorts of places and no one wanted to test for E. coli O157:H7 (that’s what happens with a zero tolerance policy; don’t test, don’t tell). Subsequently the Times said in an editorial that the only way to be safe was to cook hamburger to shoe leather, and former Centers for Disease Control-type, Richard Bessler told Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America the only way to cook meat safely is to "cook it to the point where most people wouldn’t want to eat it."

Former U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Food Safety, Richard Raymond, responded on his blog that the Times story simplified a few things about testing and mixing, and that, “raw meat and raw poultry should not be considered to be pathogen free—ever.”

Then yesterday, the Minnesotans, home of Cargill, tried to poke a few more holes in the Times story.

Craig Hedberg, professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Minnesota, said,

“Testing of product, either raw materials or finished products, is something that has limited usefulness. We can’t test every square inch of an animal’s carcass to see if there’s bacteria present … it just would be too expensive.”

I’m not sure who we is, and playing cost off against human health is never a good tactic.

Ryan Cox, professor of meat science at the University of Minnesota said,

“If you were to go into a modern meat facility, it looks very similar to a surgical suite in a hospital.”

Especially with the sick people.

Cox explained that meat industry practices are so stringently regulated that “to infer in some way that we have an unsafe system would be certainly an error.”

Pete Nelson , who spent 35 years running a USDA-inspected facility, defended the multiple sourcing used by large processing plants. He cited the need for a steady supply of beef in case an individual slaughterhouse is not able to deliver on time, as well as the need for a variety of meats to ensure consistency. …

Both Nelson and Cox said consumers have an important role in food safety, especially in the handling and cooking of raw meats.

“We both agree on the fact that there really wouldn’t have been much of a story to begin with, particularly with the instance [The New York Times] cited with the food sickness, if the product had been cooked to the correct internal temperature.

Ouch. Blame the consumer. USDA stopped that in 1994.

Cross-contamination is a serious issue, as repeatedly pointed out on this blog and in our research, and that’s why pathogen loads have to be reduced as much as possible before entering a further processing plant, a restaurant, a grocery store or someone’s kitchen. And then, as Raymond says, never assume meat – or any raw food – is pathogen free. Same with animals. Those 90 kids that got sick with E. coli O157:H7 at a petting zoo in the U.K. weren’t dealing with meat from different sources.

And no one has to cook to shoe leather. Meat thermometers can help, and stick it in until 160F for hamburger.

Our steaks were a delicious 125F, climbing to about 135F over time.

Petting zoos and the fair

The North Carolina State fair is firing up here in Raleigh (the doors open to public on Thursday). I’ve never been to a state fair and am looking forward to participating in this slice of Americana. I’m all over tasting the fair foods like funnel cakes and turkey legs but I’ll probably stay away from the deep fried butter (freeze sticks of butter, cut off 2 tablespoons, put it on a stick, bread it like chicken, and deep fry it).

The fair also brings petting zoo risks. The UK and Vancouver (Canada) have had recent tragic petting zoo stories and over at wormsandgerms Scott Weese detailed some of the things he saw at a recent Ontario event. I’m curious to see what the N.C. State Fair has for risk management tools, and if anyone is using them. 

Laura Hendley, frequent contributor to the foodsafe listserv, wrote a letter to her local paper detailing her praise over what she saw at a Helena (MT) event: 

The Jim Darcy School PTA provided a petting zoo and pony rides at the recent Helena Education Foundation carnival on Sept. 20, at Memorial Park. Located at the exit to the petting zoo were two temporary hand-washing stations set up with potable water jugs filled with warm water, soap, paper towels and catch buckets. There was also hand sanitizer available.

Good stuff, without the tools it’s difficult to practice good hand hygiene.

But just having the tools there might not be enough. Like we’ve seen with norovirus, it’s a good idea to engage the petting zoo target audience (parents and kids) with compelling risk-reduction messages and conduct some sort of evaluation (no matter how crude) to see whether they work.

E. coli petting zoo delusion in the UK

This is how delusional some folks are about E. coli O157 in the U.K.

The Exmouth Herald reports that Nigel Lee, who runs the World of Country Life, has slammed the hype surrounding an E.coli scare as ridiculous after being told he can reopen all attractions following an investigation.

The U.K. Health Protection Agency recommended Lee close the animal portion of his attraction three weeks ago after three children who contracted the O157 strain of E. coli had potential links to the farm.

Of 30 samples collected from sheep, goats, chickens, rabbits, pigs and an empty calf pen, E. coli was detected in eight representing a mixed group of sheep, goats, chickens and also contained a rabbit.

A further positive result was found in a sample from a pig pen. Following the examination, the HPA advised the attractions could be re-opened.

Mr Lee was pissed with the HPA after they issued an incorrect media statement three weeks ago which implied the site was completely closed, stating,

"All the hype just got ridiculous. It was just the petting farm and deer train ride that was closed.”

Apparently Lee thinks sick kids is hype, and what about the 8 out of 30 positive samples?

Below is a table of petting zoo outbreaks, largely adopted from a list Bill Marler collected.

UK girl ‘infected by E coli at farm six months before alert

Any time there’s an outbreak of foodborne illness, and someone says, “We’ve always done things this way and never had a problem,” there is an immediate cloud of suspicion hanging over that producer or retailer.

It’s probably the worst thing someone facing a food safety crisis can say.

The Brits are particularly pissed that Godstone Farm in Surrey, a petting zoo which appears to be the source of 87 E. coli O157 illnesses, including 12 kids in hospital, stayed open as long as it did.

It’s going to get worse.

According to the Times this morning, a five-year-old girl who suffered kidney failure in March is thought to have been made ill by E coli contracted at the same farm.

Holly Nethercoat (right) was kept in an isolation unit at Great Ormond Street hospital, London for two weeks after a visit to Godstone farm in Surrey.

The story says that despite the likelihood Holly contracted the bug at the farm, it was not informed. It is not mandatory to report E coli cases to the Health Protection Agency.

The agency refused to say whether it had been told of Holly’s case. However, Jackie Flaherty, owner of Godstone farm, said:

“We absolutely haven’t heard of any cases before August.”

Great Ormond Street said “good public health practice” meant the case should have been reported to the local health protection unit but it refused to say whether it had done so in Holly’s case because of patient confidentiality.

Mark Nethercoat, Holly’s father, said,

“My daughter went to hell and back, and I can only conclude it was because something was grossly wrong with both the farm and the Health Protection Agency.”

Mother of Canadian E. coli toddler questions E. coli response at BC petting zoo

The number of E. coli cases believed to be linked to the PNE has climbed from 13 last week to 18, and the mother of one sick child is questioning health officials’ response.

Coquitlam, B.C., mother Caroline Neitzel says her 14-month-old daughter, Jacklyn (right), was infected with E. coli after a visit to the annual Vancouver fair on Sept. 5.

Neitzel said her daughter touched a number of different animals at the petting farm. She said she did her best to wipe her daughter’s hands with wet wipes during that visit.

Despite her efforts, Jacklyn became very ill. At first doctors thought the toddler had the flu. Jacklyn was sent home twice before being admitted to Royal Columbian Hospital, according to her family.

"By that time, her eyes were rolling into the back of her head. She was just so lethargic," Neitzel told CTV News on Friday.

The toddler spent four days in hospital. Neitzel said she thinks her daughter would have been diagnosed earlier if health officials had issued a public warning when a cluster of E. coli cases was discovered.

Anna Marie D’Angelo, a spokeswoman for Vancouver Coastal Health, said the public was not alerted because there was no risk at the time.

"We became aware of the situation three days after the PNE had closed. So there was no risk to any future people getting this E. coli," she said.

Health officials say an alert would not have changed how a patient was treated at the hospital.

The PNE says E. coli has never been a problem in the past at the petting farm and that the fair has stringent hygiene measures in place, including signs and staff directing visitors to hand-washing stations.

UK toddler out of hospital after petting zoo kidney failure; 5th farm closes

Todd Furnell (right), a two-year-old boy who suffered kidney failure following an E.coli outbreak at a petting farm was discharged from hospital after two weeks. Unfortunately his brother was still on a drip and too unwell to be released.

The Health Protection Agency said yesterday
that a fifth farm has partially closed after identifying a further five cases of E. coli O157 in people who had visited Big Sheep and Little Cow Farm.

Sick kids from petting zoo climbs to 79; parent vows never to visit farm again

Gemma Weaver, 24, of Bramley Close, has vowed to "never forgive the farm" after her three-year-old son, Alfie (right), suffered kidney failure following a visit to Godstone Farm.

“We are taking legal advice at the moment. I will never, ever be setting foot in a farm with my children again. Not just Godstone Farm but any farm."

Mrs Weaver said she still hadn’t heard from (farm manager) Mr Oatway, who added,
“We will definitely be opening again. There are still ongoing investigations but we are sure we will open again."

Three more cases of E.coli linked to a children’s petting farm have been confirmed – taking the number of people affected to 79.

First lawsuit filed in E. coli O157 outbreak linked to UK petting zoo

Solicitor Jill Greenfield said she was instructed by relatives of the "seriously ill" youngster to pursue a negligence claim against Godstone Farm in Surrey.

But she would not disclose her clients’ names or the age of the child involved.

"We need to establish what went wrong and who if anyone is at fault. I would hope that the farm representatives and the Health Protection Agency (HPA) will agree to meet with me as soon as possible in order that I can establish the facts as quickly as possible.
"I have contacted both the farm and the HPA today suggesting a meeting this week and I wait to hear."

The HPA said eight children remained in hospital and 67 cases of E.coli have been linked to Godstone farm.

Animals test positive for E. coli O157 on Godstone Farm in Surrey, now linked to illness in 67 kids

The BBC is reporting that lambs, pigs, goats, cattle, ponies and rabbit droppings at a Surrey farm at the centre of an E.coli outbreak have tested positive , with a whopping 33 of 102 samples likely to contain the O157 strain of the infection.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said the total number of E.coli cases linked to Godstone Farm had risen to 67.

Eight children remain in hospital in a "stable or improving condition."