Vernon and North Okanagan
E. coli patient interview
Sep 18, 2013 / 5:24 pm
Castanet reporter Carmen Weld speaks with the owner of Gort's Cheese Farm, Kathy Wikkerink, who asks for forgiveness from the public, as well as Gort's customer Annemarie Mccrie who was diagnosed with E-Coli seven days after visiting the farm on September 1, 2013.
UPDATE 5:30 P.M. - There have been 11 confirmed cases and one possible death so far linked to an e-coli outbreak at Gort’s Cheese Farm in Salmon Arm.
The person that passed way within the BC Interior Health Authority died after testing positive for E. coli in August and yet Alberta’s Annemarie McCrie visited that same farm on September 1.
“We didn’t do a tour or anything else like that because we were in a hurry but we did sample all the cheese unfortunately.”
Seven days later, she found herself in the hospital
“It was very very horrible, I have never had diarrhea like that before and horrible cramping like the worst cramping I have ever experienced.”
After numerous tests, the hospital determined it was e-coli
“About an hour later Health Canada contacted me and made me go through the last 10 days of where I’ve been and what I ate and sure enough I listed that Gort’s Cheese and the woman said ‘Oh my God, that is where it is coming from.”
“I still had two packages of Gort’s cheese in the fridge that I hadn’t eaten yet and the lady from Health Canada actually came and picked them up today.”
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency there are over 70 retailers across BC and Alberta that carried the recalled cheese.
“Approximately 5,000 kilograms of cheese could be affected - that is what is on the market. So with the shelf life, it could have been consumed, it could still be sitting in people’s refrigerators and it could still be on the retail shelf,” says Fred Jamieson, Food Safety Recall Specialist for the CFIA.
Jamieson says the next step is finding what exactly caused the problem.
“We need to determine what the root cause is and therefore based on the root cause analysis we can determine whether or not our actions were sufficient to mitigate the risks associated with the issue and if not if there are other products we will go out at that time.”
Considering the first noted case was in July and there was a possible death linked to the bacteria in August it seems odd the public wasn’t notified until September 17, to which Jamieson says the CFIA acted quickly once they got the information from the provincial agencies on the evening of September 12.
“Once we had a full understanding of what they were bringing to us we initiated the food safety investigation very quickly…We went to the farm right away and on that day the firm voluntarily stopped shipping all cheeses out of there as a precaution and then we conducted our investigation to get all documentation which then culminated in sending the health risk assessment to Health Canada,” explained Jamieson.
Gort’s Cheese Farm Owner Cathy Wikkerinks is emotional as she picks up the phone and confirms there is an e-coli strain on her farm. “A bad bacteria that is hurting people is causing this, where it is coming from we do not know.”
“The investigation is ongoing; normally the source of H7 traditionally is through some of the digestive systems of different animals. So our challenge is to determine, based on all the handling practices, what got it (bacteria) from any of the animals or sources in the facility into the finished product and into the hands of consumers,” elaborates Jamieson.
Authorities have not linked the one mentioned death directly to the cheese, something the Gort’s Cheese Farm wants to make clear
“He did not die from eating our cheese, it is under investigation still. Many people die, that assumption is coming from the media and it is not coming from the health officials,” stressed Wikkerinks.
“We pray that there has been no deaths from this,” says an emotional Wikkerinks.
The Food Inspection Agency claims they were only notified on Friday yet McCrie says the Health Authority knew what she had over a week ago. Questions about why it took so long for the public to be informed are still unanswered. Gort’s Cheese Farm continues to produce pasteurized cheeses – deemed safe by federal authorities
“The several different types of products, they have the unpasteurized and pasteurized products, we initiated the recall on the unpasteurized products, but they are still producing pasteurized milk and other pasteurized products and are still being allowed to be produced,” confirms Jamieson.
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