Lawyer welcomes E. coli report

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Read the report


Updated 6 hours ago

The long-awaited report into last fall's E. coli outbreak in North Bay has freed a Windsor law firm to move ahead with plans to certify a class-action suit.

I've seen the report," said Sharon Strosberg, a lawyer at Sutts, Strosberg that is handling the $17-million suit against Cara Operations Ltd. which owns the Harvey's restaurant chain.

Anytime you get a report like this that confirms that the outbreak happened at the restaurant operated by the defendant, it's very helpful in the lawsuit."

At least 235 people became sick during an outbreak in October that originated at the Harvey's restaurant on Algonquin Avenue. Forty-seven of those were confirmed cases of E. coli O157:H7 infection.

It's the same strain that killed seven people and made another 2,500 people sick in Walkerton, Ont., in 2000.

While the company and most of the employees co-operated with the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit during the investigation, six were issued orders under Ontario's Health Protection and Promotion Act to comply with a medical officer of health request to submit a stool sample and fill out a questionnaire.

One worker went missing in the midst of the outbreak, and Dr. Jim Chirico, medical officer of health, acknowledges that's a missing piece in this investigation.

We can't say that he was involved, but we can't rule it out either," he said.

Despite every effort, we just could not get this guy."

With the threat of lawsuits hanging in the air, the fear of legal liability may have contributed to people not wanting to co-operate, he said.

The report released last week found the outbreak in North Bay

A copy of the report is available on the health unit's website under Surveillance and Reports.

On the web: www.healthunit. biz

was likely caused by contaminated raw Spanish onions served at the restaurant. It found inconsistent cleaning of an onion dicer may have contributed, along with a steel mesh glove -- used when onions are chopped on a board -- that can harbour bacteria.

The report said the dicer was not taken apart in the dishwasher.

It compared the health crisis to the nationwide Maple Leaf listeriosis outbreak last summer that killed at least 20 people. That outbreak was blamed on the accumulation of bacteria deep in slicing machines which were not dismantled when they were cleaned.

The local restaurant had to change the way it operates, including an end to topping up garnish bowls, throwing away garnish leftovers at the end of the work day, and a procedure of taking apart the dicer to clean it.

It's unknown if the same standards are in place across the chain.

Cara did not return calls for an interview.

Onions used for garnish are usually left out in room temperature during the workday. If they're contaminated, that could cause the bacteria to spread.

The onion shipment was traced to an unnamed Quebec farm not usually used, although testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency didn't find evidence of contamination at the source.

The report said it's possible only certain areas of the farm or certain bags were contaminated with E. coli.





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