Health officials have closed their investigation into an E. coli outbreak stemming from raw-milk cheese from a dairy farm in B.C.’s southern interior, which has resumed selling unaffected products.
“Given no new cases have occurred since the end of September, this outbreak appears to be over,” the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said Friday in a final notice on its probe of Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm at Salmon Arm, B.C.
Cases of illness due to E. coli O157:H7 tracked back to Gort’s products were documented in 11 males and 17 females, ranging in age from three to 82. They included 13 people in British Columbia, 10 in Alberta, two each in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and one in Quebec.
Out of those 28, four people were hospitalized; one person died. The onset of illness in the 28 people affected occurred between July 7 and Sept. 29, spiking at eight cases on Aug. 25.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced its first recall of affected cheeses from the Gort’s plant on Sept. 17, and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control ordered Gort’s to stop selling or supplying any cheese from the Salmon Arm plant.
Gort’s, on its website, said it was first informed of possible contamination on Sept. 13 and destroyed all its summer raw-milk cheese to eliminate any risk for further illness.
“Together with our support team and the government authorities we have now thoroughly gone through our entire facility to possibly identify and rectify any issues we may have had,” the company said.
“No E. coli was found in our plant but a few test samples did show the presence of E. coli. These were all destroyed.”
The farm was approved Oct. 18 to resume sales of its pasteurized cheeses, and of its raw-milk cheeses made before May 27.
Gort’s, operated by the Wikkerink family since 2007, markets its cheeses through its own store, through certain retail stores in B.C. and Alberta, and online across Canada. The company bills its products as made using milk from the farm’s own grass-fed cows.
Cheeses subject to recall included Gort’s Mild gouda (red raw milk sticker attached) as well as its Medium, Aged, Extra Aged, Greek, Parsley, Jalapeno, Cumin, Smoked and Red Pepper gouda cheeses; its Black Pepper or Peppercorn cheese; and its Maasdammer, Beaufort, Parmesan and Mazuda cheeses, from lots 122 to 138, purchased between May 27 and Sept. 14.
While raw or unpasteurized milk is prohibited from sale in Canada, sales of cheese made from raw or unpasteurized milk are allowed. Cheeses made with raw milk are stored for at least two months before sale, during which time any pathogens within are expected to die off.
“These cheeses are manufactured and produced in a way that helps eliminate harmful bacteria that may be present in raw or unpasteurized milk,” PHAC says of raw-milk cheeses on its website.
That said, PHAC advises against pregnant women, children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems eating cheese made from raw or unpasteurized milk, particularly soft and semi-soft varieties such as Brie, Camembert and blue-veined cheeses. — AGCanada.com Network
Raw milk cheese: Another sterile debate (column), Nov. 14, 2013
E. coli probe of raw-milk cheese expands to 22 cases, Sept. 24, 2013
B.C. raw-milk cheeses linked to E. coli outbreak, Sept. 18, 2013