Public Health Notice: E. coli O157:H7 illness related to frozen beef burgers

Updated: 22 April 2013

Why you should take note

This outbreak appears to be over.

In total, eight cases were reported as part of this outbreak. The last reported case became ill on February 13, 2013. 

Collaborative investigation efforts by provincial and federal health authorities and food regulatory partners confirmed that frozen beef burgers were the source of this outbreak. The burgers were recalled from the marketplace.

You should check the list of recalled beef products and, if you have any of the recalled products in your home, throw them out or return them to the place of purchase.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, in collaboration with provincial and territorial partners, will continue to monitor for and investigate any new cases of E. coli O157 that may be related to this outbreak as part of its routine surveillance activities.

Outbreak Summary

Based on all the information collected to date – epidemiological, microbiological and food safety – a total of eight cases of illness were reported as part of this outbreak; four in Ontario, two in Alberta and one each in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  More information about the epidemiological investigation is also available.

More information about products that have been recalled and how that aspect of the investigation has unfolded, is available on the CFIA website.

What you should do

Since 2006, reports of E. coli illness in people have shown a general downward trend in Canada from 978 cases in 2006 to 482 in 2011.

Most strains of E. coli are harmless; however, some strains, such as E. coli O157:H7, can make people sick, causing severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Serious complications of an E. coli O157:H7 infection can include kidney failure.

If you think you are sick with an E. coli O157:H7 infection, consult a healthcare professional.

Symptoms of an E. coli O157:H7 infection

Like other food-borne illnesses, the symptoms of E. coli infection mainly involve the gut. Symptoms may vary from person to person; however, they often include:

  • severe stomach cramps;
  • diarrhea (often watery and may develop into bloody);
  • vomiting; and
  • fever (generally not very high - usually less than 38.5˚C/101˚F).

Symptoms usually last five to seven days.

Overall, around 5 to 10 per cent of those who get sick from E. coli O157:H7 develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), an acute renal failure which can be fatal. Of those, children younger than 5 years old and the elderly are at greatest risk of developing HUS. Symptoms of HUS vary. Some people have seizures or strokes and some need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others live with side effects such as permanent kidney damage.

Who is most at risk?

Infections can occur among people of all ages, however symptoms are likely to be more severe among the very young and the elderly.  Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are also at high risk of developing serious complications.

How to protect yourself

Proper hygiene and safe food handling and preparation practices are key to preventing the spread of all food-borne illnesses, including E. coli

Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of foodborne illness.

Contaminated foods may look and smell normal. It is important to ensure that you thoroughly cook foods to destroy bacteria. Recalled products , however, should not be consumed and should be thrown away.

General food safety

Everyone should practice these general food safety precautions at all times:

  • Cook meat to a safe internal temperature—use a food thermometer to be sure; Thick burgers like the ones recalled need to be cooked longer than regular sized ones to be sure they’re safe.
  • Wash your hands before and after cooking;
  • Keep knives, counters and cutting boards clean;
  • Keep raw meats separate from other foods when you store them; and
  • Refrigerate or freeze left-overs promptly.

Additional information

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