- Our Town
E. coli warning shocks Gort's Gouda Cheese Farm owners
Owners of Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm remain devastated and exhausted after learning last Friday that their farm is suspected of producing tainted cheese.
Kathy Wikkerink, who runs the popular farm with her spouse Gary Wikkerink, said their aim has always been to provide people with healthy food.
“Generally with grass-fed beef or grass-fed dairy, the chance with E. coli is minimal. What we do, we want people to be healthy. It has kind of back-fired on us. Why we do what we do is for health.”
She said having their small dairy means milk doesn’t have to be shipped across the province, like so much is.
“We have a huge following of people who insist that it’s raw. We’ve been basically going by that demand.”
It is the farm’s raw-milk cheese that is suspected of containing the E. coli strain that has been isolated in 10 people who became ill as well as one person who died.
“We apologize to the public that this has happened. We are not taking this lightly,” Wikkerink said, noting she feels badly for the family who has lost their loved one. She adds, however, that as far as she has been told, it has not been determined that the cheese was responsible for the death.
Wikkerink says she and her husband have no idea where the issue is with the cheese.
“CFIA (The Canadian Food Inspection Agency) is playing it safe. They know there is a raw milk issue, they told us. Even our two-year old cheese, they made us pull that. They just don’t want any more illnesses.”
She said CFIA inspectors arrived at their farm last Friday night.
“We were totally unaware there was an issue… They spent all day Saturday with us trying to get to the bottom of it; they told us already it could be a challenge to find the source,” she says. “We have just finished our busiest season of the year. Most of the cheese has been consumed. Eleven people have gotten sick, 10,000 have eaten it.”
She says the farm has had no sick staff, no sick family members and no reports from their customers.
“We’re suspecting it’s one cheese or one day of packaging. We suspect it’s small.”
When the CFIA finishes its investigation, the Wikkerinks will begin making pasteurized cheeses, which she says would take only about a month to get to market.
Still, Gort’s have products to sell currently. Wikkerink said they have three goudas that are pasteurized: light, smoked habanero and mild that are safe to consume, as is their feta. They also sell products such as import cheese, yogurt, grass-fed beef and eggs, as well as products from other sources such as coffee, honey, mustards and pottery.
Wikkerink says she’s hopeful the farm will hear the results of the investigation by the end of this week.
“Products and swabs are being tested… I don’t want to hear that news. I do but I don’t. But we’ll need to find out.”
She estimates that the raw-milk cheeses, which will be destroyed, make up at least 50 per cent of their products.
Wikkerink tearfully expresses her gratitude to the community.
“We just want to thank our loyal customers for their support and thank the community for their support. Not just now, but always being there – blessing us so we can bless them in return. So we can be a community together.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has published a list of Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm products implicated in the outbreak of E. coli.
Interior Health and the BC Centre For Disease Control issued a public alert to avoid consuming cheese from Gort’s during the afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 17.
One person has died and 10 others have become ill in B.C. and Alberta, all who have tested positive for the same strain of E-coli. All are known to have consumed cheese from Gort’s.
The person who died and two of those who are ill reside in the Interior Health Authority.
“Three are IH residents and one of the three is the person who died,” said Dr. Rob Parker, medical health officer for Interior Health. “The IH resident who died had consumed Gort’s cheese and had a lab-confirmed case of E. coli 0157:H7, and that particular bacteria was a ‘finger-print match’ (with the other cases).”
Parker said the cause of death is still under investigation and health officials are still trying to determine how much the E. coli contributed to it.
All other cases have recovered or are recovering, said the Public Health Agency of Canada Wednesday.
When the onset of illnesses occurred in July, it was a cause for concern but, as an isolated case, did not ring alarm bells. The province gets a number of E. coli cases throughout the year and, while they try to identify the source, people are sometimes unable to pinpoint the cause of the illness.
It takes anywhere from two to four weeks from the time a person gets ill to get the bacteria fingerprinting done and matched.
In terms of the outbreak linked to Gort’s, health officials saw a cluster of cases implicating Gort’s cheese only late last week, said Parker.
Food contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 may not look or smell spoiled.
Symptoms of E. coli infection include severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Some people may have seizures or strokes and some may need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others may live with permanent kidney damage.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s list of Gort’s Gouda Farm cheeses that have been recalled is as follows: Medium Gouda Cheese Quaso, de Prato; Aged Quaso de Prato; X Aged Quaso de Prato; Cumin Quaso de Prato; Greek Blend: Onion, Paprika, Parsley, Pepper, Thyme, Oregano Quaso de Prato; Gouda Cheese with Jalapeno Peppers Quaso de Prato; Smoked Gouda Cheese Quaso de Prato; Gouda Cheese with Red Peppers, Ginger, Onions and Garlic Quaso de Prato; Peppercorn, Ginger, Paprika, Onion and Garlic Quaso de Prato; Parsley, Celery, Onion, Garlic, Dill and Chives Quaso de Prato; Maasdammer; Beaufort; Parmesan and Mazouda.