Public Health Notice - Outbreak of E. coli infections linked to Robin Hood All Purpose Flour, Original
March 29, 2017
This notice has been updated to include information about a food recall warning that is related to the outbreak investigation. Canadians are advised to not eat or use the recalled flour product. Additional advice on safe food practices for preparing raw dough and batter is also included.
Why you should take note?
The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with federal and provincial public health partners to investigate an outbreak of Escherichia coli, called E. coli O121 that has now been linked to Robin Hood All Purpose Flour, Original. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has issued a food recall warning advising Canadians of the recalled product that has been distributed in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. The investigation is ongoing and it is possible that additional products linked to the outbreak investigation may be identified.
Canadians are advised not to use or eat any Robin Hood All Purpose Flour, Original sold in 10 kilogram bags with a code containing BB/MA 2018 AL 17 and 6 291 548 as these products may be contaminated with E. coli. For additional recall details, please consult CFIA's recall notice. Restaurants and retailers are also advised not to sell or serve the recalled product, or any items that may have been prepared or produced using the recalled product.
This outbreak is a reminder that it is not safe to taste or eat raw dough or batter, regardless of the type of flour used as raw flour can be contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E.coli.
E. coli are bacteria that live naturally in the intestines of cattle, poultry, other animals, and humans. Most E. coli are harmless to humans. However, there are many different strains of E.coli, and some varieties can cause serious illness.
While most people made ill by E. coli experience a few days of upset stomach and then recover fully, infections can sometimes be life threatening.
There have been 25 cases of E. coli O121 with a matching genetic fingerprint reported in four provinces: British Columbia (12), Saskatchewan (4), Alberta (4) and Newfoundland and Labrador (5). The illness onset dates range from November 2016 to late February 2017. Six individuals have been hospitalized. These individuals have recovered or are recovering. No deaths have been reported. The majority (54%) of the individuals who became ill are male with an average age of 24 years.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has issued a food recall warning for Robin Hood All Purpose Flour, Original linked to this outbreak. During the food safety investigation, samples of Robin Hood flour were collected and did test positive for E.coli O121. Several individuals who became ill reported having contact with Robin Hood flour. The investigation is ongoing and it is possible that additional products linked to the outbreak investigation may be identified.
Who is most at risk?
Although anyone can get an E. coli infection, pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems, young children and older adults are most at risk for developing serious complications.
What you should do to protect your health?
Check to see if you have the recalled product in your home or place of business. If you do:
- Do not use or eat recalled Robin Hood All Purpose Flour, Original. Secure the recalled product in a plastic bag and throw it out or return it to the store where it was purchased for a refund.
- If you have flour without its original packaging and are unsure if it is included in the food recall, throw it out just to be safe.
- Thoroughly wash any containers that were used to store the recalled product before using them again.
- If you suspect you may have used recalled flour to make baked goods or a non-baked product, such as children's play-dough, throw it out. Wash all surfaces or containers where the product may have been used or stored.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water immediately following any contact with the recalled product.
For general use of flour, the following tips will also help reduce your risk of becoming ill:
- Do not taste raw dough or batter. Eating a small amount could make you sick.
- Bake or cook items made with raw dough or batter before eating them.
- Always use hot water and soap to wash any bowls, utensils, or surfaces that flour was used on.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water immediately after touching flour, raw dough or batter.
- Contact your healthcare provider if you think you have become ill from eating raw dough or batter or from consuming or handling a flour product.
People infected with E. coli can have a wide range of symptoms. Some do not get sick at all, though they can still spread the infection to others. Others feel as though they have a bad case of upset stomach. Still others become seriously ill and must be hospitalized.
The following symptoms can appear within one to ten days after contact with the bacteria:
- severe stomach cramps
- watery or bloody diarrhea
- little or no fever
Most symptoms clear up within five to ten days without needing to see a healthcare professional. However, some people who are infected with E. coli develop life-threatening symptoms, including kidney failure, seizures and stroke. While most individuals will recover completely, others may suffer permanent health effects, like kidney damage. Death can also result in extremely rare cases.
What the Government of Canada is doing
The Government of Canada is committed to food safety. The Public Health Agency of Canada leads multi-jurisdictional human health investigations of outbreaks and is in regular contact with its federal and provincial partners to monitor and take collaborative steps to address outbreaks.
Health Canada provides food-related health risk assessments to determine if the presence of a certain substance or microorganism poses a health risk to consumers.
Public Health Agency of Canada