Frozen chicken thingies perhaps: 91 sick with Salmonella in Canada, ‘poultry products are food items of interest’

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

public-accountabilityFor years, critics have complained that agencies like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency couldn’t possibly do its job properly, reporting to Parliament through Agriculture Canada, because ag promotes food.

But it’s good marketing if that food is safe.

So CFIA was moved to report through Health Canada.

Absolutely no difference.

And then there’s the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The key is solid outbreak investigations and public accountability.

Between March 15 and November 30, 2015, 91 confirmed cases of Salmonella Infantis have stricken Canadians in nine provinces.

The majority of cases (60%) are female, with an average age of 40 years. Sixteen people have been hospitalized, and all have recovered or are recovering. No deaths have been reported.

To date, the source of this investigation has not been identified, but poultry products are food items of interest in the ongoing investigation. Further evidence in the investigation is needed to determine the source in this outbreak.

81 sick: Vibrio outbreak linked to raw oysters grows in Canada’s west

The Public Health Agency of Canada reports 5 additional cases of Vibrio parahaemolyticus that have been reported in British Columbia (4), and Saskatchewan (1).

Coos Bay Oyster Co.PHAC is collaborating with provincial public health partners, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Health Canada to investigate 81 Canadian cases of Vibrio parahaemolyticus infections in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario linked to raw shellfish. The majority of the illnesses have been linked to eating raw oysters.

The risk to Canadians is low, and illnesses can be avoided if shellfish are cooked before being eaten. People with weakened immune systems, young children, pregnant women and older adults are at increased risk for developing complications if they get sick.

Individuals became sick between May 26 and August 26, 2015 and all reported consumption of raw shellfish, primarily oysters.

Based on the investigation of the foodborne illness outbreak by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, oysters harvested from British Columbia coastal waters for raw consumption on or before August 18, 2015 have been recalled from the marketplace. See the food recall warning for more information on the recalled products that were distributed nationally. Consumers should not consume the recalled products.

7 sick in E. coli outbreak: Public Health Agency of Canada doesn’t cross provincial borders

Jim Romahn writes in his blog that Belmont Meat Packers burgers have crossed every provincial border across Canada, but the Public Health Agency of Canada isn’t posting any information about how many people have been sickened so far after eating burgers processed at the Toronto plant.

Loblaws is recalling its President’s Choice products from across Canada.
Sobeys is recalling its Compliments products from across Canada, and cold.cut.cannonmaybe we’ll soon learn that it, too, will be recalling them from across Canada.

But as far as the Public Health Agency is concerned, it’s not involved until people are sickened in more than one province or territory.

But the agency did post information from the Ontario Ministry of Health indicating that seven people in Ontario have so far been linked to these burgers.

It makes me wonder how things are going to work out as food safety transitions from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to Health Canada where it will be joined at the hip with the Public Health Agency of Canada.

At least being joined at the hip promises to be better than being under the head of Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz of “death by a thousand cold cuts” fame. 

6 sick: federal health types publicly absent in Canadian E. coli burger outbreak

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced late Wednesday night that certain Compliments brand Super 8 Beef Burgers were being recalled because they may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

They said people were sick but wouldn’t say how many; that’s up to either the e.coli.O157.belmont.oct.13Public Health Agency of Canada or Health Canada (who knows the difference).

The silence has been deafening.

However, a spokesman for Ontario’s health ministry told the Weyburn Review there have been six confirmed cases of illness in that province associated with the beef in question. Of the six people, four were hospitalized; of the four, one is still in hospital. All are recovering, the ministry said.

2 more sick from E. coli burgers from Canada’s Cardinal Meat; 1 death in Dec. just now revealed

Two days after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) warned about another or related outbreak linked to the Cardinal Meat plant in Ontario, the rapid response folks at the Public Health Agency of Canada Chicago_meat_inspection_swift_co_1906-268x300decided to say, yes, two more people had been sickened with E. coli O157:H7, bringing the total to seven.

And that’s all they said.

Fortunately, Matt McClure of the Calgary Herald had already done lots of digging and revealed two days earlier that not only were there additional illnesses, but that a death was related to product from the same plant.

The Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed Wednesday that testing has shown the two outbreaks share a similar, but slightly different genetic fingerprint – a potential sign that they were caused by a common source of E.coli contamination.

“Work is underway to assess if and how these two situations may be linked,” CFIA said in a written statement.

Cardinal president Brent Cator said although the firm conducts random tests of the beef trim it uses to make burgers and every 500 kg of finished product, Cator said he depends on the food safety programs of the meat packers that supply his grinding facility.

Back in Dec., Cator, told the Herald his company makes frozen patties using beef trim from various Canadian and international processors that has been certified as free from E. coli O157:H7. However, he refused to identify the sources of the meat used in the recalled burgers.

Unwilling to tell consumers where their food comes from? Don’t buy it.

In Dec., McClure says, some food safety experts criticized the federal agency for waiting nearly two months to recall product after it had positive test results from patients with food histories that pointed to frozen burgers from Cardinal.

Oh, and by the way, McClure got PHAC to admit there was another patient who actually died in early December after being infected with the same strain of E. coli as the one found in the recalled burgers.

Officials at the federal health agency had said that the DNA fingerprint in those cases had never been seen before in North America and was strong evidence all the patients got sick from eating the same product.

But PHAC’s website now says those test results weren’t enough proof to say the fatality was caused by a tainted burger.

Canadians will apparently tolerate anything.

E. coli in walnuts in Canada? Nothing new

Three weeks since the last update on an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to walnuts in Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada today reported … nothing.

PHAC stated:

“Since the last update on April 7, 2011, there have been no new cases of illness reported as part of this outbreak in Canada. The last reported case became ill on March 25, 2011.

"The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) continues to work with provincial/territorial authorities, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada to identify illnesses that may be associated with this outbreak and to confirm the source of the outbreak. PHAC will provide updated information as the outbreak investigation progresses."

And then it repeated the statement of April 7, 2011, which noted there have been 14 cases of E. coli illnesses reported from Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick. Some of these cases have experienced serious illness. Ten individuals have been hospitalized and 3 cases developed haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

13 sick, 9 hospitalized in Canadian E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to walnuts

Late last night, Canadian health types issued a media release saying there were people sick from E. coli O157:H7 in several provinces linked to walnuts.

I noted that was really crappy risk communication – not being clear about what was known in terms of sick people and what was not known — which is expected of government agencies like Health Canada, especially when they proclaimed a couple of days ago they were a founding member of some international Center of Excellence in Food Risk Communication (it’s a website and sucks).

About an hour ago (2:16 p.m. Eastern, April 4, 2011) the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) announced there have been 13 cases of E. coli O157:H7 in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick (those are provinces in Canada). Nine individuals have been hospitalized and two cases developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

The strivers for excellence in food risk communication note:

“You can help reduce your risk of becoming ill by following safe food handling precautions:
? Clean counters and cutting boards and wash your hands regularly.
? Read labels and follow cooking and storage instructions for all foods.
? Make sure to check the "best before" date on all foods.
? Use warm soapy water to clean knives, cutting boards, utensils, your hands and any surfaces that have come in contact with food, especially meat and fish.
? Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours of cooking.
? Freeze or consume leftovers within four days of cooking.
? Always reheat leftovers until steaming hot before eating.
? Keep refrigerators clean and at a temperature below 4° C, or 40° F. Install a thermometer in your refrigerator to be sure.”

I have no idea how this applies to raw walnuts, like the ones I had on my salad for lunch (those yummy walnuts were from California, not Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Iran, the places from where the fingered distributor, Amira Enterprises Inc. of St. Laurent, QC, imports things like walnuts.

And rather than toss out the suspect walnuts, Canadian health types recommend “consumers who have raw shelled walnuts in their home can reduce the risk of E. coli infection by roasting the walnuts prior to eating them. Consumers should place the nuts on a cooking sheet and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes, turning the nuts over once after five minutes.”

This does not account for the risk of cross-contamination with a virulent pathogen. My microbiology friends look forward to testing out this advice. I wonder what it was based on?

5 years later, Canada releases illness data; trends for Salmonella, Campylobacter, verotoxigenic E. coli and Shigella

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which was created to streamline various public health duties like providing meaningful data on foodborne illness and provide leadership on public health issues (totally useless during the 2008 listeria in deli meats outbreak that killed 22) has gotten around to releasing so-called integrated surveillance data for selected enteric diseases in Canada.

This report focuses on the years 2000 to 2004. The pathogens described are Salmonella, Campylobacter, verotoxigenic Escherichia coli and Shigella. From 2000 to 2004, a general decline in reported rates of all four pathogens was observed in all except a few provinces. When looking at more long-term trends from 1995 to 2004, a similar decline was seen in nationally reported rates for all four pathogens. S. Typhimurium was the most frequently reported Salmonella serovar during the five-year period described, followed by S. Heidelberg and S. Enteritidis. C. jejuni remained the most prevalent Campylobacter species reported between 2000 and 2004. E. coli O157 comprised the majority of verotoxigenic E.coli isolates over these five years. Shigella sonnei was the most frequently reported Shigella species.

Hospitalizations, deaths, outbreaks and case clusters, as well as unusual isolation sites and travel-acquired infections are also explored in this report. Pathogenic E. coli was associated with the highest hospitalization rates over the five-year period, although Salmonella infections resulted in the largest number of deaths overall. Data on outbreaks and case clusters is limited to those reported to the National Enteric Surveillance Program (NESP) and the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML).

Which means, not much. The data is exceedingly limited, and why it took at least 5 years to report is baffling. Canadians can comfortably go back to sleep.

If 14 people confirmed sick is a small outbreak, what’s a large one? And where’s the cutoff?

Going through the food safety press releases of Canadian bureaucracies for inconsistencies is like fishing with dynamite.

So many little tips that a bunch of $50-150K per year salaries sweated over.

Yesterday, the Public Health Agency of Canada said it was “working with provincial and local health authorities, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to investigate a small outbreak of Salmonella Cubana.”

I have no idea how the public health types distinguish a small from a large outbreak, but I bet it doesn’t feel very small to the 14 identified people who have been barfing from raw sprouts.

And I’m sure it’s comforting to those barfing that,

“For most people, the risk posed by Salmonella infections is low.  Salmonella is the most frequently reported cause of food-related outbreaks of stomach illness worldwide.”

Salmonella outbreak in N. Ontario may be linked to melons

When I think Thunder Bay, Ontario in January, I think melons.

Ripe, juicy melons, like cantaloupe.

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit is investigating an increased number of Salmonella cases in Thunder Bay and District. Twenty-three cases of Salmonella have been reported since January of this year. We would normally expect approximately seven (7) cases in this time period.

Some cases have been linked to person-to-person transmission or travel and some are related to a North American outbreak being investigated by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Six cases are still under investigation, but like most Salmonella cases, are likely related to unsafe food handling in the home. …

The outbreak under investigation by PHAC may be related to melons. Because melons grow at ground level, their rough and pitted outer skin can trap Salmonella bacteria from the soil. If the outer skin of a melon is contaminated, the fruit inside may be affected when the melon is cut. Follow these tips:

* Buy melons that are not bruised or damaged and store them in the fridge.
* Throw away any melon that is bruised or rotten.
* Wash all melons before cutting.  When cleaning a cantaloupe, brush the whole fruit under running water using a clean produce brush, getting into all the pits on the skin.
* Put cut melon on a clean plate; don’t put the pieces back on the cutting board.
* Don’t reuse any food equipment (e.g. knife, cutting board) used to prepare a melon.
* Wash all equipment with hot water and soap or clean them in the dishwasher.
* Store cut melon in a clean container in the fridge.

How is Salmonella in melons a consumer handling issue? Where is the data that says most Salmonella cases are related to unsafe food handling in the home? And why no notice from PHAC about an outbreak investigation?