Seven months after their world was shaken, the owners of Gort’s Gouda cheese farm are still working to get their business back on solid ground.
“It’s been a tough haul. We’re working hard at rebounding, it’s looking positive. It’s going to be a long haul, but that’s okay,” said Kathy Wikkerink, who owns the farm with her spouse Gary.
In February, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a report on its food safety investigation at the farm. It was initiated on Sept. 14, 2013 following a cluster of E.coli 0157:H7 illnesses that were believed to be related to consumption of cheese products from Gort’s.
Twenty-one people were eventually reported with E.coli-related illness and recovered, while one woman died.
Pinpointing the contamination couldn’t be done.
“Despite extensive efforts, the CFIA concluded that there was no evidence available to confirm the source of the E. coli O157:H7 contamination,” states the report.
“The CFIA identified areas for improvements at the processing facility and requested Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm to submit a corrective action plan. The company was requested to make enhancements in sanitation practices, equipment design and building maintenance.”
It adds that, “all food safety concerns identified during the investigation have been corrected. Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm corrected other administrative and non-food safety related issues within accepted time frames.”
Kathy says the bulk of the requirements for the business involved paper work, “bigger paper trails.”
Under “root cause analysis,” the report points to raw milk cheese products.
“Overall evidence indicated that there were a number of opportunities for contamination to occur in the earlier stages of the raw milk cheese manufacturing process.
“The potential for contamination during cutting, handling and packaging was also found to be a possible risk factor.”