The public is being warned not to eat certain bulk and packaged raw shelled walnut products because they may be contaminated with E. coli bacteria.

The recall by Quebec-based Amira Enterprises Inc. comes as the Public Health Agency of Canada investigates a multi-province outbreak of E. coli illness.

"There have been 13 cases of E. coli illnesses reported from Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick. Some of these cases have experienced serious illness. Nine individuals have been hospitalized and two cases developed haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)," the Public Health Agency said in a release Monday.

HUS is an illness associated with E. coli infections that could result in kidney failure. 

New Brunswick's Health Department said the province has had two cases, including one person who was hospitalized and has since recovered. 

si-220-walnut-recall

All package sizes, including halves and crumb packs, all lot codes and all best-before dates of the affected brands are included in the recall. (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)

Ontario's Health Department said the province had two cases, including one who was hospitalized and released and one who recovered at home.

The other nine cases were in Quebec.

None of the walnut samples tested positive for E. coli, said Dr. Mark Raizenne, director general of the Public Health Agency of Canada's Centre for Foodborne, Environmental and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases in Ottawa.

That is not surprising, Raizenne said, since it would be difficult to detect E. coli on walnuts unless the contamination is extreme.

Since inspectors were unable to find contaminated walnuts, officials are not confirming the nuts are the only source in the cluster of cases.

 Recalled brands and products 
 Brand  Product
 Amira  Raw shelled walnuts sold from a bulk bin

The brand name Amira may not be marked on the raw walnuts sold from the bulk bins.

 Amira  Prepackaged raw shelled walnuts (Halves/Pieces/Crumbs)
 Tia  Prepackaged raw shelled walnuts (Halves/Pieces/Crumbs)
 Merit Selection  Prepackaged raw shelled walnuts (Halves/Pieces/Crumbs)
 Amira  Mistral Mix containing walnuts
 Tia  Mistral Mix containing walnuts
 Amira  Salad booster containing walnuts
Tia Salad booster containing walnuts
 Source: CFIA 

Toasting advised

The Amira Enterprises brand walnuts were imported from the U.S., sold from bulk bins and have been available since Jan. 1.

All package sizes, including halves and crumb packs, all lot codes and all best-before dates are affected by the recall.

The products, which may not all be marked with the brand name, have been distributed in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and Ontario, but may have also been sold in other provinces. 

Food contaminated with E. coli may not look or smell spoiled but could cause serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses.

"Until further notice, consumers who have raw shelled walnuts in their home can reduce the risk of E. coli infection by toasting the walnuts prior to eating them. Consumers should place the nuts on a cooking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, turning the nuts over once after five minutes," PHAC advised.

Symptoms include severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is monitoring the effectiveness of the recall.

A spokesperson for Bulk Barn said the store does not carry any of the brand names listed in the recall, the grocery chain Metro said it does not use those walnuts and Sobeys in Ontario said it does not currently have any products in its system from this company.

With files from CBC's Kelly Crowe and Melanie Nagy