August 19, 2022

E. coli O121 Outbreak in Canada Linked to Flour Grows to 28 Cases

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has updated their investigation into the E. coli O121 outbreak linked to flours and flour products. There are now 28 people sick in that outbreak.

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The case count by province is: British Columbia (12), Saskatchewan (4), Alberta (5), Ontario (1) and Newfoundland and Labrador (5). One of the 28 cases was a visitor to Canada. The illness onset dates range from November 2016 to March 2017. Seven individuals have been hospitalized. These patients have recovered or are recovering. No deaths have been reported. The average age of ill individuals is 24 years.

There have been several recalls linked to this outbreak; all of the flours and flour products are produced by Ardent Mills. Brand names of the recalled products include Creative Baker, Golden Temple, Robin Hood, and Brodie.

This outbreak is similar to the E. coli O121 and O26 outbreak in the U.S. linked to General Mills flour and flour products in the summer of 2016. In that outbreak, 63 people in 24 states were sickened. Seventeen people were hospitalized bemused they were so sick, and one person developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney failure.

In June 2016, the FDA isolated Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) O121 bacteria in open bags of General Mills flour that were taken from the home of patients who lived in Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma. In July 2016, FDA officials isolated STEC o126 from a sample of General Mills flour.

If you have purchased any of these recalled products, either in Canada or in the United States, do not use them, even if you are going to bake with them. The flour can spread all over your kitchen and contaminate surfaces.

And these outbreaks are good reminders to be careful when you use flour and to never taste raw dough or batter before it’s baked. Some of those sickened in the General Mills outbreak tasted raw cookie dough and others played with dough made with raw flour. The CFIA states “These food recall warnings and this outbreak are a reminder that it is not safe to taste or eat raw dough or batter, regardless of the type of flour used as raw flour can be contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E. coli.”

The symptoms of an E. coli infection include painful and severe abdominal cramps, diarrhea that is bloody and/or watery, and a mild fever. These symptoms begin two to eight days after a person is exposed to the pathogenic bacteria.

A few days after this infection starts, it can develop into a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), if the patient is under the age of 5 or if the illness is treated with antibiotics. Symptoms of HUS include little or no urine output, easy bruising, bleeding from the norse or mouth, lethargy, and a skin rash. Anyone who is experiencing any of these symptoms needs to see a doctor, because E. coli infections and HUS can be life-threatening.

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