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Some Canada E. coli Not Linked to Food

Nov 6, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Food samples tested for E. coli at Canada’s Harvey's Restaurant in North Bay have returned with negative results.  In response, Dr. Catherine Whiting, medical officer of health with the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, said finding the source is not a process that can be completed overnight, adding that in these situations there is a “pretty high" potential that a product will not be identified.  Despite this, Whiting said that authorities are getting closer to determine possible causes of the outbreak.

“I am hopeful we will have a report to release; however, nothing will be made before December and maybe later," Whiting said, noting that the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit is working with many “other agencies,” including heath units in 10 Ontario communities, Quebec, and British Columbia where people have reported symptoms typical of E. coli poisoning, such as bloody diarrhea.

Harvey’s has been closed since October 12 and there is no word on when it will be reopening.  Whiting had the restaurant closed once sufficient evidence linked a potential E. coli outbreak Harvey’s so that needed samples could be collected.  As of yesterday, 249 cases remained under investigation.  Of those, 49 have been lab confirmed for E. coli; no less than two people have been hospitalized.  Also, a $17-million class-action lawsuit has been filed against Cara Operations Limited, the company that runs the Harvey's chain.

Meanwhile, yesterday, we reported that E. coli appears to be sweeping across areas of Canada with the number of suspected cases linked to an outbreak in Burlington, Ontario increasing.  Also yesterday, the Halton Region Health Department said officials were investigating 43 suspected E. coli cases.  Just Monday, the figure was at 28.  The outbreak appears to have originated from the Johnathan's Family Restaurant in Burlington and, to date, three of the 48 cases are confirmed to be E. coli strain O157:H7.  Also, the “molecular fingerprint” from the Burlington outbreak matches those in Niagara, in which 47 suspected cases led to the closure of two restaurants.  Twelve of the 47 suspected cases there have since been confirmed.  Both M.T. Bellies restaurant in Welland, Ontario and the Little Red Rooster restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake have been linked to 21 cases each of suspected E. coli infection.  The remaining five suspected cases have not yet been linked to any food establishment.

Dr. Robin Williams, medical officer for the Niagara health authority, said the strain of E. coli O157:H7 was very rare and given that three restaurants in two regions were infected with the same strain, common food distributors are being investigated to help locate the infection’s source.  Williams noted that, while the investigation is in early stages, it seems that salad ingredients are a potential culprit.  The outbreak centered around the Harry’s restaurant is the third E. coli outbreak ongoing in North Bay, Ontario.  No contamination source has been identified in any of the cases and investigations continue.

E. coli may cause fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death.  In the US, E. coli is the leading cause of food-borne illness, sickening about 73,000 and killing 61; last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks.

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