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Number of E. coli illnesses rises to 21
The news just keeps getting worse.
As of Monday, the Public Health Agency of Canada issued a notice that seven more cases of E. coli-caused illness linked to Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm in Salmon Arm are being investigated, bringing the total to 21.
Nine of those cases are in B.C., including a Vernon woman who died in August from the illness, along with one case in Alberta and one each in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec.
Three of the B.C. cases are in the Interior Health Authority. Except for the one death, all other cases in Canada have recovered or are recovering, states the agency.
The notice adds that “certain contaminated cheese products manufactured by Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm… have been identified as the source of the illnesses. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has issued a Health Hazard Alert warning the public not to consume the affected product. Should additional products be recalled as part of the ongoing food safety investigation, the CFIA will immediately inform the public.”
To date, 15 varieties of Gort’s cheeses have been recalled.
The notice continues: “There is currently no indication of widespread risk to Canadians. However, E. coli O157:H7 can pose a serious public health risk. Additional cases of illness may be identified and linked to this outbreak in the future.”
At Gort’s farm, the Wikkerink family is understandably devastated.
Co-owner Kathy Wikkerink says one relief was talking to the family of Cory Van Der Linde, the 84-year-old Vernon woman who died Aug. 16 as a result of the E. coli illness she contracted after eating Gort’s cheese.
“They contacted us. They have forgiven us, they hold no grudges. That was good to know,” she said Tuesday.
Van Der Linde became violently ill on July 29 and spent the remainder of her days in hospital with the infection.
With 15 varieties recalled, just seven of Gort’s cheeses remain unaffected.
Wikkerink says Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors are still at the farm, carrying our their investigations. No cheese can be sold until the investigation is complete. Wikkerink says the farm can sell only yogurt, milk, quark cheese and grass-fed beef.
The farm has laid off three of its six paid employees, leaving just three employees, along with Gary and Kathy Wikkerink and their four children who reside at home to keep things running.
“We have to do what we have to do. There’s no more information (from government agencies) with what we have to do with the farm. It’s hard because you don’t know what they’re going to do. We can’t make any plans.”
Asked about disposing of the cheese, Wikkerink says it is all in the government’s hands at this point.
Wikkerink emphasizes her appreciation for the community.
“We are thankful again from the bottom of our hearts, the way they’re rallying behind us, their words of encouragement.”
She says at this point her family can only wait for God’s guidance.
“I just know that God’s got a plan, we’re trying to just hold on to his promises. That’s all we have.”