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Critical violations found in Calgary kitchen at centre of 'largest E. coli outbreak in Alberta': AHS

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CALGARY -

Alberta Health Services (AHS) says a Calgary kitchen that supplied meals to several local daycares, leading to a massive E. coli outbreak among children and staff members, failed an inspection report earlier this month.

AHS also shared details of the latest health inspection of Fueling Minds on Tuesday, the central kitchen that's believed to be at the centre of the outbreak.

In that report, health inspectors discovered three critical violations that forced the closure of the facility until they could be corrected.

They included improper sanitization of equipment and utensils used in the preparation of food, improper food handling procedures and pest control issues.

"Two live adult cockroaches were observed on the sides of stainless steel equipment around the dishwashing area. The tin cat traps by the two separate two-compartment sinks had at least 20 cockroaches on the sticky pads each," the report read.

Dr. Mark Joffe, Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, says the source of the E. coli contamination isn't known yet, but the outbreak was declared as soon as health officials began admitting patients.

"Our public health inspectors have collected samples of 11 food types that were found in the centralized kitchen and they've collected samples of eight leftover food samples that were available from the child care sites."

All of this material is being tested in AHS labs, Joffe said, as officials are collecting food histories from the patients as well as those who did not become ill.

Once that analysis is complete, he said they may have a better idea of the exact source of infection.

"This has been an extraordinary outbreak. It's certainly the largest E. coli outbreak in Alberta that I'm aware of. It's particularly serious given that it has largely impacted young children," Joffe said.

Joffe says health-care workers have been fighting the outbreak "on two fronts" – inside hospitals and with health inspection teams, who are tasked with monitoring sanitization procedures at the affected facilities.

"Our physicians, our nurses, our lab staff and other front-line providers are all working around the clock to provide the very best care to their patients," he said.

CHILDREN FACE SERIOUS HEALTH ISSUES

Some of the care those patients are being provided with is linked to the severity of the E. coli infections each patient is fighting. Officials say those have led to serious health concerns.

"These children are needing daily blood work," said Dr. Tania Principi, the Alberta Children's Hospital's section head of pediatric emergency medicine, adding a specialized clinic has been set up at the hospital to handle these patients.

"We want every child that's been identified as having the infection get blood work and be screened for potential complications."

At this time, Principi says a subset of the patients have had "more serious complications" such as hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS.

"Those have required admission to hospital. Some of those are there for fluids – vomiting, diarrhea can be hard to keep up with – so they'll need IV fluids. Some have required transfusions as it can cause a drop in their hemoglobin and anemia.

"We've had a small subset that have gone on to require dialysis."

Joffe says the number of cases, their severity and even the age of the patients involved have made the situation "very challenging" for everyone involved.

Health Minister Adriana LaGrange offered her "deepest concerns" on Tuesday to everyone affected by the outbreak.

"This trying time has undoubtedly brought challenges and heartache for many families," she said. "I know there are no words that I can offer that can change that feeling of powerlessness and fear that some parents are feeling."

STATEMENT FROM FUELING BRAINS ACADEMY

In a statement sent to CTV News Calgary via email, Fueling Brains Academy said it is "saddened and deeply concerned" by the E. coli outbreak.  

"Our heart goes out to all who have been impacted. The well-being of our children, parents, and staff has been and remains our foremost priority.

"When Alberta Health Services (AHS) notified us of the outbreak on September 4, we took immediate action, closing the affected campuses, notifying parents and began working with AHS to determine the cause of the outbreak.

"Our affected Fueling Brains campuses source their food from Fueling Minds, a catering company which provides food service to our campuses as well as other childcare centers. Fueling Minds is supervised by a Red Seal chef. While these companies share similar ownership, they are independent entities. While our kitchen remains closed, all food will be sourced by external providers.

"Communicating with our families has been our priority and we have been sending out daily parent and staff messages to help keep our community informed and safe. Families affected by the closures will receive credits for the days impacted and further tuition solutions are being addressed on a case-by-case basis.

"This has been a very difficult time for the Fueling Brains community. We remain focused on supporting our kids, families and staff during this very difficult time and are committed to determining the cause of the outbreak and will implement any changes in our operations and processes that are required."

The statement concludes by asking anyone with inquiries for the Fueling Minds kitchen to email info@fuelingminds.com.

PROVINCE WORKING WITH FACILITY

In the meantime, Children and Family Services Minister Searle Turton says work is being done to help all the shuttered daycares to reopen in the coming days.

"Both AHS and licenced staff have been working with programs to ensure they have the supports and measures needed to safely reopen.

"The child care licencing team will meet with Fueling Brains this afternoon about the outbreak and their plans going forward."

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