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Walnut recall expands as E. coli probe continues

CBC News 
Posted: Sep 7, 2011 10:04 AM ET

A recall of walnuts possibly contaminated with E. coli has expanded as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency continues an investigation.

The agency issued a health hazard alert Wednesday, warning consumers away from a range of bulk and packaged walnuts, including some sold at Sobeys and Loblaws. They may be contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7.

The nuts came from Toronto-based Johnvince Foods, which imported them from the United States. 

An inspection agency official said that so far, E. coli has been found on six or seven walnuts — the first confirmed instances of such walnut contamination in Canada.

No illnesses related to E. coli-tainted walnuts have been reported. But CFIA became concerned about the nuts while investigating the source of one individual's illness, said Garfield Balsom, a food safety and recall specialist with the agency in Ottawa. It sampled a range of foods the woman had eaten. .

"From our analysis . . . walnuts was one of the suspected food sources," Balsom said. "Once we got an indication from our sampling process that there was E. coli, we expanded the investigation."

The individual's illness didn't turn out to be connected to the bacteria, and she has now recovered, he said. But the discovery prompted an initial recall on Sept. 1. The list of potentially contaminated products grew as the investigation continued, Balsom said.

Consumption of foods tainted with E. coli can lead to abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Severe cases of E. coli-related illnesses can be fatal.

This is the second walnut recall in six months. In April, walnuts were removed from bulk bins and store shelves after more than a dozen Canadians got sick and one died from an E. coli bacterial infection. The patients had all been exposed to walnuts, but an investigation never did find E. coli on the nuts themselves.

Food contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 may not look or smell spoiled. Balsom said E. coli could contaminate walnuts at different stages of production and distribution, and it's not known how it might have happened in this case.

The agency has shared its findings with the Food and Drug Administration in the United States.

"Our main focus is to identify what’s in Canada and what might be affected and to make sure product removed from marketplace," Bolsom said.

Recalled walnut products
The products covered by the recall, some of which may have been distributed nationally, include:

Bulk walnuts distributed by Johnvince Foods, sold at stores from retail bulk bins 
President’s Choice Raw California Walnut Halves, unsalted (250 g) 
President’s Choice Deluxe Trail Mix (220 g) 
No Frills Natural Walnut Halves and Pieces (175 g) 
Longo’s California Walnuts (240 g) 
Compliments California Walnut Halves & Pieces (225 g) 
Compliments Walnut Halves (100 g) 
FreshCo California Natural Walnut Halves & Pieces (200 g) 
Marketplace Co-op “Halt” the Salt Walnut Halves & Pieces, 250g 
Johnvince Foods Caramel Toffee Walnuts (11.34 kg) 
Stock & Barrel Caramel Toffee Walnuts (300 g) 
Joe’s Tasty Treats California Select Walnuts Mostly Halves (350 g) 
Selection Walnut Halves (250 g) 
Planters Vitality Mix 100 Calories per Bag, (240 g) 
Marketplace Co-op Vitality Mix (375 g) 
For more information on food recalls, consumers are encouraged to visit the CFIA's Food Recall Report.

Consumers may also call Johnvince Foods at (416) 636-6146, ext. 7226, or 1-800-268-7950, ext. 7226;

CFIA at 1-800-442-2342 / TTY 1-800-465-7735.