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An E. coli outbreak has been declared in nearly a dozen Calgary (and area) daycares as of early September and the Alberta Health Services (AHS) has now confirmed 329 cases linked to the outbreak. The culprit is Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, a strain of the bacteria that can cause severe food poisoning symptoms.
AHS said in a statement on Sept. 14 "while case numbers continue to increase as test results come back from the lab, the number of patients in hospital is falling."
In a previous statement, AHS confirmed the source of this outbreak is food that was distributed from the central kitchen.
There are currently 13 children in the hospital. So far, a total of 19 children and one adult have been discharged from hospital since the beginning of the outbreak on Sept. 4.
In addition to the E. coli infections, public health officials also reported Thursday that 11 patients have been confirmed as having hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe illness caused by the bacteria that can damage the kidneys.
"Those patients with more severe illness are in stable condition and responding to treatment," said AHS. "Our frontline healthcare teams continue to provide them with the very best care and support possible."
AHS said the "centralized kitchen that supplied food to the impacted daycares remains closed until further notice," adding there is currently no timeline on reopening.
The health agency also said that central kitchen used by the daycares was inspected five times this year, with the most recent inspection taking place on Sept. 5, after the kitchen closed due to the outbreak.
"Three critical violations were identified during the inspection on Sept. 5 relating to food handling, sanitization and pest control," AHS said in an update on Sept. 12.
"Two non-critical violations were also identified related to an odour and storage of utensils," it added.
AHS said the "kitchen will not be allowed to reopen until all issues related to the infractions have been properly addressed and signed off by public health officials and the investigation into the E. coli outbreak has been completed."
Inadequate response from government
"It's been a week since the first cases were reported and we still don't know the source of the food poisoning, other than that Alberta Health Services (AHS) said that it is 'highly likely' that it originated in the central kitchen that supplies the affected daycare centres.
Despite the magnitude of this problem, we have yet to hear a peep from Alberta's chief medical officer of health, who is (checks notes) Dr. Mark Joffe. AHS seems to be content with releasing a daily count of the hospitalized, and basic information telling parents what to do if their children fall ill. Meanwhile, both Premier Danielle Smith and provincial Minister of Health Adriana LaGrange have been 'sending thoughts and prayers' to parents. Argh," health reporter and columnist André Picard said in an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail on Sept. 11.
Questions and concerns about inspections
"The daycare food supplier called Fueling Minds was inspected four times in 2023 before the E. coli outbreak… The Fueling Minds inspections go back to mid-2021. There were three that year and another three in 2022. Problems were found nearly every time, including recurring failure of a dishwasher to reach safe temperatures," Don Braid wrote in the Calgary Herald on Sept. 13.
Braid's article also highlighted that frequent inspections, especially when violations persist over several years, indicate potential issues. It questions why violations were not permanently corrected and why Alberta Health Services (AHS) did not take earlier action to close the kitchen.
A post-closure inspection found evidence of significant pest infestation, including live cockroaches and sticky pads. Braid notes the pest control reports lacked crucial information about dates, chemicals used, and other required details. The reports can be found here.
It's an urgent situation
"There are many sick kids now, well over 200 and counting, more than half the cases of E. coli seen in Canada in a whole year… Dr. Mark Joffe, the province’s top public health doc, says this is the worst E. coli outbreak he's known in Alberta. A newshound asks the doc, who took over from Dr. Deena Hinshaw after she was shown the exit door, why it took so long to address this outbreak publicly.
'We didn't feel there was urgency to do that up until this point,' says Joffe. Say what?!
Parents should ask questions to daycare providers
"The parent should still be saying, 'What is this person's designation? What are their food safety practices? Do they have sanitation? Do they use ATP swaps? Do they have records of their of their performance?," advised David Farnell, CEO of daycare caterer Real Food for Real Kids to Global News.