Public Health Agency of Canada

Public Health Agency of Canada

April 04, 2011 14:16 ET

Public Advisory: E. coli Outbreak

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - April 4, 2011) - The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is investigating an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in three provinces.

PHAC is working with Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and authorities in the affected provinces to actively investigate this outbreak. At this time, the outbreak investigation indicates that several individuals have reported consuming raw shelled walnuts.

Until further notice, 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.

Consumers should also be aware that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has issued a Health Hazard Alert and is warning the public not to consume certain bulk and prepackaged raw shelled (out of the shell) walnut products because these products may be contaminated with E. coli. For more information please visit: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/corpaffr/recarapp/2011/20110403e.shtml.

There have been 13 cases of E. coli illnesses reported from Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick. Some of these cases have experienced serious illness. Nine individuals have been hospitalized and two cases developed haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is an illness known to be associated with E. coli infections that could result in kidney failure.

Infection from E. coli may cause serious and potentially life-threatening illness. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhoea. Although most people recover within seven to 10 days, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, young children, and the elderly are most at risk for developing serious complications. Complications may include seizures, strokes and some people may need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others may live with permanent kidney damage. In severe cases of illness, people may die.

If you suspect you may be infected with E. coli bacteria, see a healthcare professional immediately. E. coli bacteria can be easily spread from person-to-person. Proper hygiene, safe food handling and preparation practices are vital in preventing foodborne illness. If you think you are infected with E. coli bacteria or any other gastrointestinal illness, do not prepare food for other people.

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. 

PHAC, Health Canada and CFIA continue to investigate this. Walnut processors and distributors are engaged in this investigation and are cooperating to help determine the source of this outbreak.

PHAC will provide updated information as the outbreak investigation progresses. For more information visit www.foodsafety.gc.ca

Contact Information

  • Public Health Agency of Canada
    Media Relations
    613-941-8189