Promed is a wonderful thing, bringing to your desktop the latest information on human and animal disease occurring around the world. Most of the incidents reported don’t really come as a huge surprise e.g. Salmonella being present in minced poultry meat; nothing new there then. Sometimes it is something really novel and unusual, for instance Promed was the first medium that I saw heralding the white powder anthrax attacks in the USA. Personally, I like the ones that make you think and are a bit more enigmatic. An example is the current (July 2019) EHEC O26 outbreak in Iceland (www.foodsafetynews.com/2019/07/ice-cream-suspected-in-iceland-e-coli-outbreak-16-children-sick ) where there seems to be some effort going on to link the outbreak to children eating ice cream.
However, the back story is that these children had been visiting a tourist attraction where they were in contact with calves (what the Americans would call a ‘petting zoo’ presumably). Unless there is some good evidence that ice cream was involved my feeling would be that Occam’s razor should be invoked with the first working hypothesis being contact with the animals as a cause, and the ice creams as a strong second contender.
So, the evidence as reported. 17 children are sick, 3 with HUS. A third of workers have been tested, none is positive for E. coli O26. Testing of ice cream has not detected the pathogen, but the ice cream tested was of a different batch to that eaten. ‘Not all’ of the sick children had touched calves, while nine of them (which is the same as ‘not all’ of them right?) had eaten ice cream. The same ‘strain’ (which could mean lots of things but I assume serogroup) was detected in calf faeces.
As the Promed moderator points out, maybe the children contaminated the ice cream via their own hands after playing with the calves. Maybe the ice cream was produced on site from raw milk. We don’t know any of this contextual information so this is all speculation. I’m also a bit low on Icelandic ‘cultural capital’; do Icelanders eat their ice creams in a cone like we do in the UK? If so then a contamination of the cone via fingers is plausible. If their ice creams are on a stick, then it becomes less so. It all becomes quite important if the ice cream eaten is a widely distributed product that others may have eaten or might eat, but the lack of other cases might suggest that this is might not the case. I look forward the reading the outbreak report when it becomes available (in English).
As a post script, what was interesting was this casual paragraph included at the end of the article, and I quote:
“The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (Matvaelastofnun) recently detected EHEC in 30% of lamb samples and 11.5% of beef samples it tested. Of 148 samples of Icelandic sheep meat, 44 samples were positive for EHEC, and in the 148 samples of domestic and foreign beef, 17 samples were contaminated.”
These prevalence figures seem very high.