Flour recalls widen in E. coli probe

Federal public health officials and flour miller Ardent Mills are warning Canadians to follow “safe flour handling practices” as an E. coli-related flour recall widens from one specific batch of Robin Hood flour to include several other Ardent-made products.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Sunday updated its food recall warnings to include several lots and types of Robin Hood flours and mixes and Creative Baker all-purpose flour.

The original recall in late March included only 10-kg bags of Robin Hood original all-purpose flour with a certain lot code, UPC code and best-before date, sold in the four western provinces.

That recall later expanded nationwide — and expanded again last week to include other certain products sold under the Robin Hood, Creative Baker, Golden Temple and Brodie brands.

The recalls follow “reported illnesses associated with flour,” CFIA said last Wednesday, but added “there have been no confirmed illnesses associated with the products identified in this food recall warning.”

Specifically, the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a separate statement Thursday, it is looking into 26 cases of E. coli O121 with a matching genetic fingerprint, including 12 in British Columbia, five in Newfoundland and Labrador and four each in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The illness onset dates range from November 2016 to February 2017, PHAC said, noting six individuals have been hospitalized and “have recovered or are recovering” and no deaths have been reported.

Several individuals who became ill reported having contact with Robin Hood flour, PHAC said, and in the ensuing food safety investigation, samples of Robin Hood flour were collected and “did test positive” for E. coli O121.

“Kill steps”

The outbreak and recalls, PHAC said, “are a reminder that it is not safe to taste or eat raw dough or batter regardless of the type of flour used.”

Denver-based Ardent Mills, which has Canadian facilities in Montreal, Saskatoon, Mississauga and Brampton, Ont., emphasized in a separate statement Wednesday that milling alone isn’t enough to keep pathogens out of flour.

Flour, the company said, “is a raw agriculture commodity made from wheat, which is grown outdoors where bacteria and microbes, such as E. coli 0121, are often present.”

The normal milling process, Ardent said, does not have a “kill step” to eliminate microbes. Common “kill steps” applied in food prep include thoroughly boiling, baking, roasting, microwaving and/or frying, which render microbes and bacteria harmless.

That’s why “it is important that consumers note public health warnings not to taste raw dough or batter and that eating a small amount could make people sick.”

Consumers, Ardent said, should also use hot water and soap to wash bowls, utensils and/or surfaces on which flour was used, and to wash their hands after handling flour. — AGCanada.com Network

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