One person confirmed dead after suspected outbreak of E. Coli in Okanagan cheese

Image Credit: Canadian Farmers Market

OKANAGAN - One person has died following a suspected outbreak of E. Coli in Gort’s Gouda cheese, made in Salmon Arm.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recalled 14 of the company's cheeses Tuesday, and may recall more products as the investigation progresses. A spokesperson for the B.C. Centre for Disease Control says there have been four known cases in the province, the first occurring in July. Other cases are being investigated.

“It’s just now we’re seeing the cluster of cases,” Dr. Eleni Galanis says. “All have consumed Gort’s Gouda cheese which is believed to be the source of their illness.”

Gort’s Gouda is widely distributed across B.C., and also sold in Alberta. At least one person—who’s name, age and hometown is being withheld for medical confidentiality reasons—has died since eating the cheese. Health authorities won’t comment on the extent to which the E. Coli infection factored into the death except to say it is being investigated and that the bacteria fingerprint found in the person’s stool matches the strain in the outbreak.

“The cases include both men and women, children, adults and elderly people,” Galanis says. “The important message to us is anyone could have consumed these products and become ill.”

Kathy Wikkerink says she and her husband, who own Gort’s Gouda, are devastated.

“We feel terrible for the people who are sick,” Wikkerink says. “I feel bad that I caused that.”

Wikkerink says she wasn’t aware a death had been linked to her cheese until it hit the news Tuesday.

“There’s a discrepancy with what we were told,” she says. “Where this negative stuff is coming from and how true it is I don’t know.”

Since the Wikkerink family took ownership of the farm in 2007, there has been one other recall, but not for E. coli. Because the milk is unpasteurized, Wikkerink says bad bacteria has the chance to grow alongside the good, no matter how how careful they are. She’s says it’s a risk her customers are willing to take.

“It’s real food, people want it,” Wikkerink says. “What we’re hearing from our customers is they’re still behind us.”

Gort’s Gouda stopped selling all their cheese products on Saturday, both the unpasteurized and pasteurized ones. The store is still selling milk and yogurt, and Wikkerink hopes to have their pasteurized cheese back on shelves soon.

Making unpasteurized dairy products comes with its own set of strict health regulations, which Wikkerink says were followed 100 per cent. If there’s anything that can be changed to make the product safer, she says it will be done.

“My family drinks the unpasteurized milk and cheese, our staff have been consuming it all summer. Nobody has had any sickness,” she says.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is expected to announce a recall as soon as it determines which Gort’s Gouda products are infected, but for now, no cheese is leaving the farm, and distributors have been notified to take it off their shelves.

Interior Health recommends that anyone who consumed this cheese in the last ten days, has severe diarrhea or feels very sick should see their health care provider.

A list of the recalled cheeses can be found here.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.

E. coli (Escherichia coli)
-  A germ, or bacterium, that infects the digestive tract of animals.
-  There are many types of E. coli, and most of them are harmless. But some can causesevere illness, even death.
-  E. coli O157:H7 can cause stomach cramps and mild to severe diarrhea that can bebloody.
-  Symptoms start two to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria, and usually last betweenfive to 10 days.

For more information on E. coli and its health risks, visit the B.C. Centre for Disease Control web site.

Image Credit: Google Streetview

This story was edited at 4 p.m. to add information from the Centre for Disease Control, and again at 5:30 p.m. to include comments from Kathy Wikkerink.

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