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Fueling Minds kitchen facing charges in Calgary E. coli outbreak

Operators could face $120,000 in fines for the infractions.

The operators of a central kitchen behind an E. coli breakout involving multiple Calgary daycares are now facing charges for operating without a licence.

According to the City of Calgary, Fueling Minds  – a catering company and school lunch delivery service provider, they said – is facing 12 charges for serving food at childcare centres without a Food Services – Business licence. The company’s two directors are also being charged.

The City began an investigation after word of the E. coli infections started and they learned the food services were being provided. More than 350 cases of E. coli have been lab-confirmed by Alberta Health Services. Four children remain in hospital.

“This additional service was outside of the scope of Fueling Minds provincially licensed daycare business and required a City of Calgary business licence,” the City of Calgary said in a news release.

A tip from the public was also received via the City’s 311 system.

“We would like to thank that person for reaching out to us. We must help protect the health and safety of all Calgarians,” said Michael Briegel, Deputy Chief of Business Safety with the City of Calgary.

The City said they do not licence commercial daycare centres or food prep services in those locations.  They do, however, require a business licence for third-party food services if they’re contracted to provide those services.  Before a licence is approved, a business must pass a health inspection, fire inspection and have proper land use approvals.

“It is of utmost importance that businesses in Calgary have the proper licences in order to ensure a safer environment for Calgarians and the employees who work at such locations,” said Briegel. “While the vast majority of businesses do comply, those that don’t could be putting people at risk. The City of Calgary takes this very seriously.” 

If the proprietors are convicted, it could lead to $120,000 in fines.

The Calgary police updated their earlier statement to indicate they are investigating the matter at this time. They said they were aware of the E. coli outbreak at city daycares.

“After receiving information from the community, our Child Abuse Unit is currently investigating to determine if there is a criminal element to this devastating matter,” read a statement from the Calgary police.

“If it is determined that criminal charges are warranted, we will release those details when they become available. We will work with our partners at Alberta Health Services to ensure a fulsome investigation is completed.”

Investigation update

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Mark Joffe said that they began the investigation immediately and in the past few weeks they’ve tested 44 different food items, five milk samples and five beverage samples.

Dr. Joffe said they have interviewed hundreds of daycare staff, families, kitchen staff and delivery drivers. Interviews were cross-checked with attendance and their individual meal plans – with some involving four meals per day.

“All of these data are analyzed and probabilities are assigned to all of the possible sources. What I can tell you today is that one meal in particular came out with extremely high odds of being the source of the infection,” said Dr. Joffe.

“Based on our investigation, we believe that meatloaf and vegan loaf meals that were served for lunch on August the 29th most likely contain the E. coli bacteria that led to these infections.”

Dr. Joffe said while they have a likely source, they don’t know what was exactly contaminated or how.

“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,” he said.

There’s also been a third-party review ordered of the AHS findings, and once those findings are complete they will be made public.

Dr. Joffe also responded to questions about the length of time parents are waiting for test results to get the all-clear to go back to daycares. He said that there are a large number of samples being submitted to AHS laboratories.

“There can be challenges getting the sample and getting the sample to the laboratory. But once it’s in the laboratory, the testing is very quick and results are reported quickly,” he said.

Dr. Joffe said there shouldn’t be a significant delay.

Compassionate payments and third-party review

Premier Danielle Smith said that this has been a “terrifying time” for hundreds of Calgary families, and endured “the agony” of watching children suffer with the E. coli infection.

While she said that Health Minister Adriana LaGrange is conducting a review of food safety in kitchens, she said they’re now creating an external review panel to be led by former Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson. Hanson will review government policy and food safety practices, Smith said.

“Throughout this difficult time parents, the broader public and members of our government have raised several difficult issues,” Premier 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.”

They’ve asked for a preliminary report by December, but Premier Smith said that if something comes up in their work that must be addressed immediately, they will. A final report will hopefully come by the end of January, she said.

Meanwhile, nearly 800 applications have been made for the province’s compassionate payment program for the families affected by the E. coli outbreak. The portal opened on Monday. It’s for families with children enrolled in the facilities that were closed due to the outbreaks. There were initially 11, and then eight more were added.

Parents can check to see if they’re eligible by going to the compassionate payment webpage.