The daycare food supplier called Fueling Minds was inspected four times in 2023 before the E. coli outbreak that has sickened 264 people, mostly children, and sent 25 to hospital.
The record raises serious questions about why violations were not fully and permanently corrected, and why AHS didn’t close the kitchen earlier.
The Fueling Minds inspections go back to mid-2021. There were three that year and another three in 2022. Problems were found nearly every time, including recurring failure of a dishwasher to reach safe temperatures.
The post-closure inspection also found two live cockroaches and 20 more on several sticky pads. This was “significant evidence of pest infestation,” according to the report.
But the Fueling Minds pest control reports were not dated, didn’t say what chemicals were used, and lacked other required information.
Commercial food operators are almost obsessive about pest control. Gail Fraiberg, owner of Gruman’s Britannia Delicatessen, says she always sets traps as required by AHS and has never found vermin.
If cockroaches were discovered, Fraiberg said, “I would close immediately and call in a commercial pest control company. I wouldn’t wait for AHS. If you miss a couple of days of business, so be it. Safety for customers is everything.”
In the most recent report on Fueling Minds, inspectors also focused on food shipping.
“Operator indicated that cold foods were being transported to other locations in excess of 90 minutes without temperature control. Appropriate equipment for keeping food cold during transportation was not available. (Food must be maintained below 4 C or above 60 C during transport.)”
On Feb. 23 this year, Fuelling Minds didn’t even appear to have a valid food handling permit.
“The posted Food Handling Permit is expired,” the report said. “Please obtain and post a valid Food Handling Permit.”
Later reports make no further mentions of the permit.
There’s more, a long series of minor and more serious violations in a facility whose job was feeding children.
AHS is being very careful not to say there’s direct evidence that the conditions caused this terrible outbreak of illness. The facilities aren’t permanently closed. Parents need daycare for their kids and this is a big operation.
This issue is further muddled because Fueling Minds, the catering company, supplies food to Fueling Brains, the daycare centres.
Former MP Kent Hehr, vice-president of Fueling Brains, said the two operations are separate but share similar ownership.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Mark Joffe said many of the failings were quickly corrected. But the reports show that some of them surfaced again.
In July 2021, for instance, a report said the dishwasher was not properly sanitizing dishes and utensils.
The problem was recorded as fixed, but on Jan. 25 this year it reappeared. Staff were ordered to wash dishes manually until repairs were made.
Now we have a genuine health disaster. It seems to be the worst E. coli outbreak ever in Alberta. Many children are seriously ill.
The kitchen operator may have a lot to answer for, but so does Alberta Health Services.
Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald