Walnuts Falsely Accused in E. coli Outbreak

On Monday, April 3rd, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency released a warning that some bulk and packaged walnuts may have been contaminated by E. coli bacteria.

Amira Enterprises, a distributor of dried fruits and nuts based in St. Laurent, Quebec, voluntarily recalled it’s walnut products following reports of outbreaks of E. coli in three Canadian provinces. However, none of Amira Enterprises’ products have tested positive for E. coli.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are part of a large family of bacteria that can be found in the intestines of warm blooded animals. Over 700 types of E. coli have been identified. Some are beneficial to humans and only one variety produces the toxin that is responsible for illness.

Toxin producing E. coli are extremely hardy organisms that can survive for weeks on counter tops and up to a year in a compost heap.

The danger in foods affected by E. coli lies in that they will not appear spoiled. E. coli infection is potentially fatal with preliminary symptoms manifesting as severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea.

Recent tests showed that the Quebec resident that died as a result of E. coli infection had not consumed walnuts. Because E. coli is prevalent in the environment, the source of the outbreak may be difficult to pinpoint.

In fact, officials are typically only able to discover the source of contamination in less than a third of food-borne illness cases.

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