One of the health inspectors sent to Gort's Gouda cheese farm, the B.C. producer linked to a deadly E. coli outbreak earlier this week, is the daughter of the farm's original owners and a former manager at the farm, CBC News has learned.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed Thursday that Yolanda Gort had also been the farm's federal inspector for the past three years, but that in the current investigation, she is part of a team working with a senior food safety inspector and a senior dairy program specialist.
When the farm was sold to the current owners in 2007, Gort remained as plant manager, according to an article published in an industry magazine in 2009.
The CFIA said Gort was no longer working at the farm in 2010 when she became an inspector in Vernon, but the agency would not comment on whether Gort's former employment violated its own stated policy that "a potential or apparent conflict of interest serves to undermine the credibility of the agency's actions and reputations."
The agency did say Gort signed a conflict of interest declaration before she was hired — a step the agency requires of all prospective employees.
Neither Yolanda Gort nor Gort's Gouda Cheese Farm has responded to questions from CBC News on the matter.
Rick Holley, a professor of microbial ecology at the University of Manitoba, said CFIA should not only look into how the E.coli got into the cheese, but also if previous inspections were inadequate and led to the current situation.
“It’s only too easy to be less than severely critical on issues related to sanitation, for example, in a plant if you have some, we will call it, baggage,” said Holley.
Cheese confirmed as cause of death
B.C.'s Interior Health Authority also confirmed on Thursday that E. coli infection was the primary cause of death for one person who died after eating cheese from the Salmon Arm farm.
Dr. Rob Parker of the Interior Health Authority has confirmed an elderly woman from the B.C. Interior died as a result of eating cheese from the farm. Her name and age have not been released.
And the Public Health Agency of Canada said one more case of E. coli infection in Alberta has been linked to cheese from the farm.
A total four people in B.C., including the one fatality, and eight people in Alberta became sick after eating cheese from the family-run operation, officials now say.
Health officials said that, aside from the fatality, all suspected cases have recovered or are recovering.
The agency has identified and recalled 14 different cheese products made by the farm and sold between May and September.
Read more about the recalled products here
Symptoms can appear between two and 10 days, and if anyone who consumed the products feels sick they should see a doctor immediately, health officials said.
- Medium Gouda Cheese Quaso de Prato.
- Mild Gouda Cheese.
- Aged Quaso de Prato.
- X Aged Quaso de Prato.
- Cumin Quaso de Prato.
- Greek Blend: Onion, Paprika, Parsley, Pepper, Thyme, Oregano Quaso de Prato.
- Gouda Cheese with Jalapeno Peppers Quaso de Prato.
- Smoked Gouda Cheese Quaso de Prato.
- Gouda Cheese with Red Peppers, Ginger, Onions & Garlic Quaso de Prato.
- Peppercorn, Ginger, Paprika, Onion & Garlic Quaso de Prato.
- Parsley, Celery, Onion, Garlic, Dill & Chives Quaso de Prato.