September 1, 2006

Update on E. coli Cases in Winnipeg

Fifty-seven cases detected in Region within this summer.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is continuing to investigate increased numbers of cases of E. coli infection that have occurred since the middle of July 2006. Forty cases have occurred in August, most in the first 2 weeks of the month. Since January 2006, there have been 65 cases so far this year. Since June there have been 14 cases that required hospitalization.

The majority of cases continue to be associated with consuming or preparing ground beef products. It appears contaminated meat may have been distributed to several food retail outlets and restaurants throughout Winnipeg especially during the first 2 weeks of August. Although many food retail outlets and restaurants have been named, more than half the cases in August reported purchasing or consuming ground beef products distributed by Dutch Meat Market either directly to consumers or through restaurant outlets supplied by them.

Establishments have been inspected and measures taken to improve food handling practices. Dr. Pierre Plourde, WRHA Medical Officer of Health said it's believed those measures have been successful, but added ongoing monitoring will continue. The original source of the contaminated meat is not known and was outside the control of Dutch Meat Market, which has fully cooperated with the public health investigation.

The risk of E. coli contamination of ground beef is always present and so great care must always be taken during its preparation to eliminate the risk.  As part of its ongoing investigation, the WRHA is asking that anyone who may have frozen ground beef product from Dutch Meat Market purchased during the first 2 weeks of August to contact the Provincial Call Centre (788-8004) to arrange for pick-up so that it can be tested. Other options are to consider discarding it or to be particularly careful in its preparation. Anyone wanting more information about the symptoms of E coli infection can call Health Links - Info Santé at 788-8200.

Dr. Plourde also urged patrons of restaurants where food preparation is clearly visible to observe hygiene practices, especially the availability and frequency of hand washing after handling raw meat product.

"Use common sense," he said. "If the area of the restaurant that's visible to the public appears dirty or restaurant workers are not observing proper hygiene, then maybe you want to go somewhere else." 

Members of the public may also report any restaurant hygiene concerns to the Public Health Inspectors during weekday working hours (for central Winnipeg call 986-2443; for the suburbs call 945-0675).

Related Link

E-coli Fact Sheet

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