The contaminant that resulted in a recall of this Little Qualicum Cheese product, linked to five case of E. coli, has not yet been found as of Nov. 17. — BCCDC photo

Search for contaminant continues at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks

Island company ‘blown away’ by support after E. coli recall of Qualicum Spice cheese

After several days of rigorous testing, the search continues for the source of the contaminant that resulted in the recall of Little Qualicum Cheeseworks’ Qualicum Spice cheese on Nov. 13.

“We heard back yesterday about test results and there is still nothing conclusive about the source of the contamination, but we’re, at this point, confident that it wasn’t from raw milk,” said Raymond Gourlay, Little Qualicum Cheeseworks co-owner, on Saturday.

“Other testing of other batches around that time of other raw milk cheeses have made that clear. It was in all likelihood an ingredient contamination, but we can’t say anything conclusive,” he said.

The BC Centre of Disease Control and Vancouver Island Health Authority are currently working with Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, going through the cheese-making process with the company, checking procedures, ingredient and equipment, said Sion Shyng, food safety specialist with the BCCDC.

“We collect samples, check every stage of the production process and all ingredients.”

This comes after five people in B.C. were affected by an E. coli outbreak between August and October, with Qualicum Spice cheese samples tested and found to be contaminated with E. coli.

RELATED: Little Qualicum Cheeseworks cheese linked to 5 E. coli cases in B.C.

Once the source of the contamination is found, the BCCDC can mandate changes based on the source.

In terms of the cheese company’s other products, “the show goes on,” said Gourlay.

“None of our other cheeses, after more rigorous inspection, none of them have been cause for concern or are under question at all,” he said.

“We’re producing all of our other cheeses.”

While such an event is hard on a business, Gourlay said public support has been buoying the company’s spirits.

“We have been actually blown away by the support of the community,” he said. “This week we’ve just had so many people come in and buy cheese and other stuff and just give words of encouragement because they know this is a difficult thing to weather as a business.”

“We’ve been really thankful and humbled by that.”

For those who still have the company’s Qualicum Spice product at home, Gourlay said in a previous interview “we encourage all customers of the product to bring it back to the appropriate retailer. If it was purchased from us, we’re issuing refunds directly from the farm.”

The symptoms of E. coli are:

• severe stomach cramps

• diarrhea or bloody diarrhea

• vomiting

• headache

• little or no fever

Anyone who shows any of those symptoms should visit their health care provider.

Shyng noted that bacteria outbreaks in dairy products are infrequent in B.C.

“All dairy processors develop food safety systems to control for hazards associated with the production of their specific products. The outcome is that food they make and sell are safe. In the event that a problem is found, the goal is to quickly remove the product from the marketplace, and identify, correct and prevent that in the future.”

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