09/18/2013 12:40 EDT | Updated 11/18/2013 05:12 EST

Gort's Gouda Cheese Farm E.Coli Warning: 1 Dead, 10 Sick In Outbreak


EDMONTON - One person has died and at least 10 people have fallen ill from an outbreak of E. coli linked to raw cheese produced at a farm in the British Columbia interior.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said in a news release that the person who died was from British Columbia. The people who got sick include three people in B.C. and seven in Alberta.

Health officials said tests are also being done on another four possible cases in B.C. and two in Alberta.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has recalled 14 unpasteurized cheese items produced by Gort's Gouda Cheese Farm because they may be contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7.

The agency said the products were sold at the farm in Salmon Arm, B.C., in retail stores in B.C. and Alberta and over the Internet between May 27 to Sept. 14.

The farm has agreed to stop selling cheese to the public and shipping products to the rest of the province, said the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

The farm's owner, Kathy Wikkerink, told Kamloops radio station CHNL that all raw milk production has stopped at the business and no one there has become ill from E. coli.

She asked customers for forgiveness and understanding, and said the outbreak could take a financial toll on the family operation.

"We don't know the full impact yet but it could be as far as two years worth of work that's gone to the ground."

Of the 11 confirmed E. coli cases, people got sick between late July and early September.

B.C. medical health officer Dr. Rob Parker has said that the person who died last month was a patient with the Interior Health Authority. The person was admitted to hospital after showing symptoms of an E. coli infection.

E. coli is a bacteria that can cause severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, kidney failure and death.

Alberta's chief medical officer, Dr. James Talbot, said Wednesday the confirmed cases in his province include two in Edmonton and five in Calgary. The youngest to get sick was a three-year-old child; the oldest was 78.

He said none of the people were hospitalized and he believes they have all recovered.

It usually takes about 24 to 48 hours to get sick after eating tainted food, said Talbot, but it takes much longer to investigate and track down the source.

"It's a bit like a detective investigation." he said. "It takes a while both to identify the organism and then to identify that it's the same organism in the same product."

People most vulnerable to E. coli infection include children, the elderly and pregnant women, he said.

He did not know if the sick Albertans had travelled to B.C. or bought the cheese in food shops at home.

"In general, people are surprised that they can get sick from things they purchase in stores," Talbot said. "But I think if they are aware of what unpasteurized means, they would know they are running some kind of risk."

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