The City of Calgary says it has charged a catering company and school lunch delivery service provider at the centre of an E. coli outbreak affecting several daycares.
The city alleges Fueling Minds Inc. had been providing third-party food services to five Calgary child-care centres not owned by the company without a proper licence.
The corporation and its two directors have each been charged under the municipal business licensing bylaw for operating without a business licence for a total of 12 charges.
They could face a total fine of up to $120,000.
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health says four children remain in hospital, the number of new infections has plateaued and most of the children connected to the recent E.coli outbreak in the Calgary-area have been cleared to return to daycare. Dr. Mark Joffe said 351 lab-confirmed cases have been linked to the outbreak, an increase of two since last week’s update, and 37 secondary cases have been found, an increase of eight.
Alberta’s top doctor said the central kitchen that supplied food to 11 sites was likely the source of the E. coli outbreak. The provinces investigation tested 44 food items, five milk samples, and five oat beverage samples. They interviewed hundreds of people including families of the sick children, daycare staff, kitchen staff, and food delivery drivers.
In total, 1,063 children attended the impacted daycares, 211 daycare workers, nine kitchen staff and three delivery drivers.
Investigators cross-checked their interviews with attendance records, examined individual meal plans which in some cases involve four separate meals per day as well as special menu items and timed delivery routes.
Based on the investigation, Dr. Joffe said meatloaf and vegan loaf meals that were served for lunch on Aug. 29 had extremely high odds of being the source of the infection.
Neither of the items could be tested as they were either eaten or discarded before the outbreak was identified.
“While we now have a likely source, what we do not know exactly is what was contaminated or how,” Joffe said. “I do not want to speculate at this point on the answers to these two questions as the investigation remains extremely active and is ongoing.”
Joffe said he’s asked for a third party to externally review their findings to be sure nothing was missed, and analysis of the data is complete.
The company’s statement said the “exact source of the infections has not yet been identified” and it continues to work with Alberta Health Services on its investigation.
Calgary police said its child abuse unit has also opened an investigation into the E. coli outbreak to determine if there is a criminal element after receiving information from the community.
“If it is determined that criminal charges are warranted, we will release those details when they become available,” said a statement.
“We will work with our partners at Alberta Health Services to ensure a fulsome investigation is completed.”
Going forward Smith said the province is taking action to ensure this doesn’t happen again. The ministers of Health and Children and Family Services have been tasked with reviewing food safety in kitchens that provide food in licensed childcare facilities in order to create new regulations.
Former top cop to lead review panel
An external review panel led by former Calgary police chief Rick Hanson will conduct a comprehensive review of government policy and food safety practices to keep children safe.
Rick Hanson, will be joined by Alberta parents, childcare operators, food service operators, food safety and public health experts. The panel will be examining all aspects of this outbreak and will take a broader look at legislation and regulations that govern food safety in the province.
“Throughout this difficult time, parents, the broader public and members of our government have raised several difficult issues, and that’s why Mr. Hanson will be joined by Alberta parents, childcare operators, food service operators and food safety and public health experts,” Smith said. “The panel will be examining all aspects of this tragic situation, large and small, as well as taking a full, broader look at the legislation and regulations that govern food safety in our province.”
The premier was unable to provide a timeline for when the panel’s report would be complete, but said she asked for monthly updates.
The Opposition critic for childcare and child and family services, Diana Batten, said the review comes too late and with too few details.
“The UCP government has a history of creating panels and writing reports behind closed doors that never see the light of day,” Batten said.
“Albertans deserve an independent public inquiry that is fully transparent to the public, that the public can engage in and that will produce all records of what were investigated and what recommendations were made,” Batten continued.
“The health of young children is at stake and the government should stop at nothing to do all it can to prevent another crisis like this from happening again.”
Payment portal opened
Searle Turton, minister of Children and Family Services, clarified that families connected with all 19 daycares that closed as a result of the E. coli outbreak that was declared on Sept. 4 will be eligible for compassionate payments.
“The program hasn’t expanded. It’s important to note that just more daycares, since the original announcement, have actually become eligible for those payments,” he said.
On Monday afternoon, Alberta Children and Family Services posted a link to an online application form on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter.
Smith said 775 applications for compensation had been received as of Tuesday.
–with files from The Canadian Press