E. coli investigation continues as Ardent Mills expands flour recall

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

One of the recalled products: Robin Hood All Purpose Flour Original 1.8kg
One of the recalled products: Robin Hood All Purpose Flour Original 1.8kg

Related tags Bacteria

Ardent Mills has expanded a recall of flour as Canadian authorities investigate an E. coli O121 outbreak that has sickened 30 people.

Products in the expanded notice were made using 11 loads of Canadian wheat common to the prior recalled flour products and may contain the pathogen.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said there are no confirmed illnesses associated with products in the new warning.

There have been six updates naming additional affected products since the first notice at the end of March as the agency continues its investigation. See a list of all​ recalled products. 

brodie ardent mills flour
Brodie Self Raising Cake and Pastry Flour 2.5kg

It is not safe to taste or eat raw dough or batter regardless of the type of flour used, as raw flour can be contaminated with harmful bacteria such as E. coli O121​,” said CFIA.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said cases have been reported in British Columbia (13), Saskatchewan (4), Alberta (5), Ontario (1), Quebec (1) and Newfoundland and Labrador (5) with one in a visitor to the country.

Illness onset dates range from November 2016 to April 2017 and eight individuals have been hospitalized.

A sample of Robin Hood flour from a patient’s home tested positive for E. coli O121.

All cases have a matching genetic fingerprint and ‘several’ have had contact with Robin Hood flour, said PHAC.

“Canadians are advised not to use or eat any recalled flour or flour products. Restaurants and retailers are also advised not to sell or serve any recalled products, or any items that may have been prepared or produced using recalled products.”

Process does not contain a kill step

Ardent Mills said flour is a raw agricultural commodity made by grinding and sifting wheat.

Ardent Mills' consumer tips

  • Do not taste raw dough, batter or any other product containing uncooked flour
  • Bake or cook items made with raw dough or batter before eating them
  • Always use hot water and soap to wash any bowls, utensils, or surfaces on which flour was used
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water immediately after touching flour, raw dough or batter

Any raw grain milled into flour can contain bacteria from the outdoor environment in which it is grown. The milling process does not contain a kill step to eliminate microbes that may originate with the wheat.

golden temple ardent mills flour
Golden Temple Durum Atta Flour Blend 9kg

"Consumer food safety is of paramount importance to Ardent Mills, and our mills adhere to stringent and mandated food safety protocols to ensure pathogenic bacteria are not introduced during the milling process at any of our operations,"​ said Kent Juliot, VP of research, quality and technical services for Ardent Mills.

By thoroughly cooking, baking, boiling, roasting, frying or microwaving items made with flour, any microbes are rendered harmless, added the firm, which is an independent joint venture of ConAgra Foods, Cargill and CHS.

Ardent Mills has more than 40 flour mills and bakery-mix facilities as well as a specialty bakery and Mobile Innovation Center in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico.

It previously said it invests to improve food safety at its sites.

“We continually review and challenge all operations in our plants diligently seeking to avoid any practices that could reintroduce microorganisms throughout our processes by using our good hygiene practices (GHPs), and are careful to exclude moisture to further limit microbial growth.”

Different E. coli O121 strain in BC flour illnesses

Meanwhile, the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) has issued a warning after six people were infected with the same strain of E. coli O121 between February and April.  

rogers flour e. coli O121
Picture: Rogers

A sample of flour from an ill person tested positive for the same strain seen in all illnesses.

The BCCDC told consumers to dispose of Rogers’ all-purpose flour 10kg with lot number MFD 17 Jan 19 C. It was available to Costco customers in British Columbia from January 2017.

BCCDC said although it is at the same time as a national outbreak involving a different strain of E. coli O121 linked to various flour products, it is unclear whether there is a link.

Rogers said it was aware of only one illness from consuming raw flour linked to it.

“At this point the agency has not recommended a recall. However, we encourage all of our consumers with the flour lot code in question to abide by the BC Centre for Disease Control’s recommendation.

“We appreciate the testing and scientific analysis being done by both the BC Centre for Disease Control as well as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“We must emphasize that flour is a raw agricultural product and must be thoroughly baked or cooked before eating.”

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