Outbreaks in Quebec, Twin Cities Traced to Chinese Raspberries

Frozen raspberries imported from China were the source of 615 confirmed cases of norovirus in Quebec between March and July of this year, and of 15 cases in Minnesota in August of 2016.

The Quebec outbreak included clients and staff at seven seniors’ residences, two daycare centers and one hotel in four separate administrative regions of the province, according to a spokesperson for Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS).

Confirmed cases were documented in Mauricie at 6 seniors’ residences, in Laurentides at a conference at a hotel, in Chaudieres-Appalaches at a daycare center, and in Capitale-Nationale at a daycare center and a seniors’ residence.

Of the 615 outbreak victims, 141 were employees of at least two of the seniors’ residences. Four were employees at one of the affected daycare centers. Citing privacy concerns, MSSS declined to provide any further details on the victims by gender, age or geographic location. However, extrapolation of data provided by the provincial health agency suggests about 250 of the outbreak victims were seniors, and 33 were children.

The Minnesota outbreak was linked to ice cream manufactured by Sebastian Joe’s, a Minneapolis-based company, according to a spokesperson from the Minnesota Department of Health (MNDOH). The company supplied the ice cream to multiple venues within the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Norovirus illnesses were linked to consumption of raspberry chocolate chip flavor ice cream consumed at two Sebastian Joe’s venues, one private gathering, and one area restaurant. Of the 15 confirmed cases, 10 were female. One person was hospitalized.

The ice cream contained frozen raspberries imported from China. Analyses conducted by the Food and Drug Administration confirmed the presence of norovirus matching the case specimens in samples of the raspberries.

The Twin Cities and Quebec outbreaks occurred more than six months apart and appear to have been independent of each other, though frozen raspberries from China were implicated in both. Taian Runko, the company identified by the FDA during its analytical sampling, was not involved in the Quebec outbreak, according to the CFIA.

Product recalls lacked transparency
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued 14 recall notices, from June 20 through Aug. 21 this year. The agency disseminated 11 of the recalls only to businesses in the food industry, with no public warning released. Recall notices dated Aug. 11, 16 and 21 were released to the public, and alluded to the existence of “…reported illnesses associated with the consumption…” of the recalled products.

From June 23 through Aug. 14, Quebec’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) issued a series of six public alerts and product recalls, which included numerous bakery products manufactured with the individually quick frozen (IQF) raspberries. Each of the MAPAQ alerts warned of “many” illnesses associated with the consumption of products containing the IQF raspberries.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration carried out analytical sampling and laboratory analysis when advised of the Minnesota outbreak, according to an agency spokesperson. As a result of the FDA investigation, the agency added IQF raspberries from Taian Runko Industry International Trade Co. Ltd. to the Import Alert 99-35 “Detention Without Physical Examination” list (Red List) on May 2 this year. Sebastian Joe’s initiated a product withdrawal as a result of the 2016 Minnesota outbreak.

Canadian health agency never issued alert
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) never issued a public health alert in conjunction with the IQF-raspberry norovirus outbreak. A spokesperson for PHAC explained the agency’s silence was because of the outbreak having been confined to a single province.

In Quebec, the provincial health department responsible for investigating the 5-month outbreak did not issue any news releases or public health alerts either. According to a MSSS spokesperson, food recalls are the responsibility of MAPAQ and CFIA. The spokesperson added that MSSS worked in collaboration with MAPAQ and other federal authorities on the investigation.

The first public notice of the Quebec outbreak was contained in a public warning and recall notice issued by MAPAQ on June 23. The CFIA did not include a similar warning with its recall notices until Aug. 11.

No public health alerts were posted on the Minnesota Department of Health website regarding the norovirus illnesses or ice cream recall in that state.

What consumers should know about norovirus
Norovirus is the leading cause of outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It accounts for approximately about half of all foodborne illnesses in the country every year.

Symptoms of norovirus infection include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. The symptoms usually develop within 12 to 24 hours after exposure to the virus and last one to three days days.

Although extremely unpleasant, most cases of Norovirus are self-limiting, and do not present a long-term health risk, according to the CDC. Nevertheless, seniors and young children are at heightened risk of severe dehydration if infected with the virus.

Most cases of norovirus illness in the population at large are shrugged off as so-called stomach flu. Victims are usually not seen by doctors, and the infections go unreported.

A national survey carried out in the United Kingdom in 2011 determined that only one in every 23 people with norovirus consulted a physician. Overall, for every 288 cases of norovirus occurring in the general population, only one was reported to national surveillance authorities.

Timeline for Quebec, Minnesota outbreaks
August 4-14, 2016: Norovirus illnesses associated with consumption of raspberry chocolate chip ice cream at four Minneapolis-St. Paul area venues.

March-May 2017: Three separate outbreak clusters involving six seniors’ residences, all of which were serviced by a single central kitchen.

May 2, 2017: Individually quick frozen (IQF) Red Raspberries from Taian Runko Industry International Trade Co. Ltd. in Taian, Shandong China, is added to the Red List of Import Alert 99-35, citing norovirus GII contamination.

May 31, 2017: CFIA is notified by Quebec authorities that norovirus outbreak clusters appear to be linked to raspberries, and initiates a food safety investigation.

June 2017: Two additional outbreak clusters occur, one at a daycare center and the other at a hotel.

June 20, 2017: CFIA issues first product recall notice for IQF raspberries imported from China.

June 23, 2017: MAPAQ issues first consumer alert and recall notice for IQF raspberries and some products containing the raspberries, reporting for the first time the existence of “many” illnesses associated with consumption of IQF raspberries.

July 2017: Two additional outbreak clusters are reported, one at a daycare center and the other at a seniors’ residence.

This story first appeared in Food Safety News and is reproduced here with permission.


Norovirus-contaminated oysters sicken hundreds in Canada, USA

Consumption of raw or undercooked oysters from British Columbia is blamed for 321 cases of norovirus gastroenteritis in three Canadian provinces, according to an updated report from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), released March 27.

The outbreak, which has affected residents of British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, began in December 2016 and is ongoing.

The British Columbia Center for Disease Control (BCCDC) first alerted the public to the problem on Jan. 13, reporting more than 70 cases of norovirus gastroenteritis in four different health districts. All of the illnesses were associated with consumption of raw or undercooked oysters consumed either in restaurants or in private homes.

On Jan. 20, Alberta Health Services (AHS) reported a cluster of 10 cases of gastrointestinal illness, which occurred in the Edmonton area between Jan. 10-12. The outbreak victims had consumed raw oysters. The cause of the illnesses was not verified by laboratory testing.

On Feb.  2, Ontario’s Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health alerted residents of Canada’s largest province about 24 reported cases of “gastrointestinal illness consistent with norovirus” in individuals who had eaten raw or undercooked oysters.

PHAC issued an initial Public Health Notice on Feb. 7, and has been updating the case count periodically. As of March 28’s update, 321 clinical cases of gastroenteritis linked to oysters had been reported between Dec. 4, 2016, and March 18, this year: 223 in British Columbia, 42 in Alberta and 56 in Ontario. Not all of the outbreak victims were tested for norovirus; however, testing in several cases has confirmed the presence of the virus in those patients.

According to a spokesperson from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), seven shellfish aquaculture sites have been temporarily closed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The closures are based on sample results and/or epidemiological assessments. Investigation is ongoing into other harvest areas that have been linked to illnesses.

CFIA has mandated additional control measures for shellfish processing establishments to follow, and is conducting compliance verification activities to confirm that the supplementary measures have been implemented effectively. According to a March 7 notice to the industry, these additional measures will remain in effect until the outbreak has been declared over.

Not just in Canada

Seattle-King County Public Health is investigating a series of illnesses associated with consumption of oysters harvested along the Washington coast. Between Jan.  10 and March 20, as many as 39 people may have become ill after eating raw oysters at one of several different restaurants or private events in the county.

King is the most populous county in Washington State. Seattle is the county seat, and is the location of most of the restaurants associated with the illnesses. Victims of the outbreaks suffered from nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. No laboratory confirmation is available; however these symptoms are ‘suggestive’ of norovirus, according to a March 28 news release issued by THe health department.

While oysters served at the retail locations were harvested from various areas along the Washington coast, one small part of Samish Bay accounted for 22 illnesses linked to four servings. A section of the Samish Bay growing area was closed on March 17 for all species.

In recent months, outbreaks of norovirus gastroenteritis in countries as far apart as New Zealand and France also have been linked to consumption of raw or undercooked oysters. An unspecified number of reported illnesses in France triggered a Jan.  5 suspension of oyster and mussel harvest from Thau in the Hérault prefecture. Live bivalve mollusks from Thau were exported to China, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Luxembourg, Macao, the Netherlands, Thailand, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.

What consumers need to know

Bivalve mollusks (clams, oysters, mussels and scallops) feed on algae. Oysters take in 1.5 to 10.0 liters of water per hour per gram of body weight, which can amount to more than 50 gallons of water in a 24-hour period. Plankton and other suspended matter, including bacteria and viruses, are trapped as the water passes over the gills and concentrated within.

In a study published in December 2016, French researchers used nucleic acid amplification techniques to estimate the number of norovirus particles in oysters implicated in several outbreaks. They found between 43 and 1170 viruses per oyster.

Norovirus has a reported infectious dose of just 10-100 particles. Thus, consuming even a single contaminated raw oyster could be enough to infect a susceptible consumer in some cases.

Norovirus gastroenteritis is a short-lived but highly unpleasant illness. Typically, symptoms include nausea, vomiting and a copious, watery diarrhea, and last from one to five days. The virus is highly contagious, and can be spread through contaminated food and water, via direct person-to-person transfer, or through hand-to-mouth contact with contaminated surfaces. With an incubation period of just 24-48 hours, the illness can snowball in confined places, such as cruise ships, hotels, hospitals and nursing homes.

Health authorities in Canada and the USA urge consumers to take the following precautions when preparing or eating oysters and other bivalve mollusks:

  • Ensure oysters are fully cooked before consuming them. It is recommended to cook oysters to an internal temperature of 90° C (194° F) for a minimum of 90 seconds. Quick steaming or cooking oysters until the shells just open is not enough to kill norovirus.
  • Discard any oysters that do not open when cooked.
  • Eat oysters right away after cooking, and refrigerate leftovers.
  • Always keep raw and cooked oysters separate.
  • Wash your hands well with soap before handling any food. Be sure to wash your hands, cutting boards, counters, knives and other utensils after preparing raw foods.
  • If you develop symptoms of nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, wait at least 48 hours after the last episode of vomiting and/or diarrhea before preparing any food for others.

This article first appeared on Food Safety News and is reposted here with permission.

Recalls and Alerts: February 23 – 25, 2017

Here is today’s list of food safety recalls, product withdrawals, allergy alerts and miscellaneous compliance issues. The live links will take you directly to the official recall notices and company news releases that contain detailed information for each recall and alert.

If you would like to receive automatic email alerts for all new articles posted on eFoodAlert, please submit your request using the sidebar link.

United States

Allergy Alert: Kusher LLC (Fife, WA) recalls various Kusher brand cookies (Best before February 2017 and up to August 10, 2017) due to undeclared milk and egg. Please refer to the recall notice for a detailed list of products.

Food Safety Recall: Lakeview Cheese and Bashas’ Family of Stores recalls various types of Colby cheese due to potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes. The recalled products were distributed by Las Vegas-based Lakeview Cheese to Bashas’ Family of Stores, and sold in Bashas’ and Food City supermarkets’ Arizona meat departments under the grocery brands’ private label. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of recalled items.

Food Recall: WinCo Foods and Buehler’s Fresh Foods recall Two Bite Pecan Mini Tarts (9.2 oz; All lot codes), manufactured by Give and Go Prepared Foods (Ontario, Canada) because the product may contain dried weevil larvae.

Public Health Alert: The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing a public health alert due to concerns that certain PREMO brand meat and poultry wraps produced by JLM Manufacturing (Shelby Township, MI)  may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. A recall was not requested because it is believed that all products have been consumed and are past their “Best by” dates. Please refer to the FSIS notice for details.


Allergy Alert: Poissonnerie du Marché (Laval, QC) recalls Taramosalata Dip (all product sold up to and including February 22, 2017) due to undeclared milk.

Allergy Alert: Amira Enterprises Inc. recalls Ziyad brand Soup Starter Soup Based – Jameed (1 kg) and Ziyad & Chef’s Soup Starter Soup Base – Jameed & Premium Rice (1.91 kg) due to undeclared milk. The recalled products were distributed to retailers in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec.

Allergy Alert: Hen Long Market Oriental Food Co. Ltd. recalls various Happy brand pudding products due to undeclared milk. Please refer to the recall notice for details.

Allergy Alert: GraceKennedy (Ontario) Inc. recalls Butterkist Artificially Flavoured Butter Cookies and Butterkist Artificially Flavoured Coconut Cookies (150g; all codes) due to undeclared milk. The recalled cookies were distributed to retailers in Ontario.

Allergy Alert: Merlin Trading Co. recalls Yanjinpuzi Dried Tofu products due to undeclared fish. Please refer to the recall notice for details.

Food Safety Recall: IFC Seafood Inc. recalls Irresistibles brand Giant Scallops (300g; Code Oct 10 2018; Lot 164105 16284) due to metal pieces in the product. The recalled product was distributed to retailers in Ontario and Quebec.

Food Safety Recall: Les Placements GT7 Inc. – Marché du Coin – Super Sagamie (Saguenay, QC) recalls Spaghetti Sauce (800 mL and 1 L glass jars; sold up to and including February 22, 2017) due to potential underprocessing that may render the product unsafe.

Food Safety Recall: Pâtisserie La Bonne Fournée (Matane, QC) recalls Cipaille (500 mL and 1 L; sold up to and including February 22, 2017) because the product is missing the required label instruction indicating that it must be refrigerated.

Food Safety Recall: Les Pâtes Cortina Inc. (Quebec, QC) recalls Sauce à la Viande/Meat Sauce (500 mL and 1L; Lots 08/02/2017 and 15/02/2017; Exp. 25/03/2017 and 01/04/2017) due to potential underprocessing that may render the product unsafe.

Public Health Notice Update – Norovirus: The Public Health Agency of Canada advises Canadians that a total of 267 clinical cases of gastrointestinal illness linked to oysters have been reported in British Columbia (179), Alberta (40) and Ontario (48). Testing of several cases has confirmed the presence of Norovirus infection. All individuals who became ill reported having eaten oysters.


Allergy Alert (Denmark): Dan Viet (Odense) recalls Kokoscreme Royal Thai i dåse (400 mL; Expiry 11-06-2019) and Lotusrod i lage (Net wt. 200g; Expiry 31-12-2018) due to undeclared sulphites.

Allergy Alert (UK): Waitrose recalls Frozen 2 Breaded Haddock Fillets (300g; Batch no L7 038 N; Pack size 2; Best before end February 2018) due to undeclared mustard and milk.

Food Safety Recall (Czech Republic): Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority warns the public not to consume Grandma Beauty Seven Herbs bagged tea with Echinacea (Batch L09111630 C; Best before 09 11 18; Manufactured by Mokate SA, Ustron, Poland) because the presence of alkaloids and scopolamine renders the tea unfit for human consumption.

Food Recall (Denmark): Danish Crown Oldenburg GmbH recalls ground beef sold in Aldi (400g net weight; Printed expiry date 03/28/2017; Lot no. ID2002) due to an incorrect expiry date.

Food Safety Recall (Germany): Steigerwald Mineralbrunnen GmbH recalls various mineral waters and sweetened beverages after a foreign body was found in some bottles. Please refer to the recall notice for a complete list of affected products.

Food Safety Recall (Germany): Martin Amberger Kartoffelverarbeitung Dolli-Werk GmbH & Co. KG recalls Dolli and Feldmühle potato salad products (Best before dates 26.2.2017, 13.03.2017 and 16.3.2017) due to an error in the use of metal detection equipment.

Food Safety Alert (Germany): The North Rhine-Westphalian Department of Consumer Protection warns against the consumption of “Diamond Vodka” after laboratory tests reveal that the product contains 15 grams of methanol per liter, exceeding the permitted limit by 400 times. A criminal investigation is in progress.

Food Safety Recall (Ireland): Wicklow Farmhouse Cheese recalls Wicklow Blue Cheese (Batch codes 16334C and 17018A; Use by dates 23.02.2017 and 11.04.2017) due to possible contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands

Food Safety Recall (Israel): Tnuva recalls Cdi Yogurt (3-liter, 3%, 4% and 6.5% fat; Expiry dates 25/02/17 to 04/02/17) due to the presence of plastic residues in the products.

Australia and New Zealand

Allergy Alert (Australia): Ottovo International Trading P/L recalls Wheat Pop Sesame Flavour Popped Wheat Snack (400g plastic bag; Best before 25-10-2017; Imported from China) due to undeclared peanut. The product was distributed through Chinese grocery stores in NSW and ACT.

Some supermarket chains post recall notices on their web sites for the convenience of customers. To see whether a recalled food was carried by your favorite supermarket, follow the live link to the supermarket’s recall website.

*The Kroger umbrella encompasses numerous supermarket, marketplace and convenience store chains
**Includes Safeway, Vons, Pavilions, Dominick’s, Genuardi’s, Randalls, Tom Thumb, Carrs and Pak N’ Save.