Nfld. & Labrador

Student blames E. coli for food poisoning outbreak at MUN

Brooke Shiner says she got sick after eating at the university's on-campus dining hall.

21 students examined, but university says there was no obvious cause

First-year Memorial University student Brooke Shiner says she contracted E. coli from MUN's on-campus dining hall. (Brooke Shiner/Facebook)

A Memorial University student says she contracted E. coli after eating at the university's on-campus dining hall.

"I was very scared, because I'm aware it can be fatal if not treated properly," said Brooke Shiner, a first-year MUN student from Glenwood, 23 kilometres west of Gander.

"I hadn't eaten anywhere, besides the dining hall, since the beginning of September. Other people that have presented themselves with the same symptoms that I have, have only been eating at the dining hall too. They all stay on campus."  

Memorial University announced on Monday that it was aware of several reports of gastrointestinal illness on campus. In an updated statement Tuesday, the university said several cases had been brought to the student wellness clinic. 

Those affected were told to get further testing to confirm a diagnosis. Shiner was among that group. 

Shiner told CBC News that she and other affected students got together to try to determine the source of the illness, with all signs pointing to the dining hall. 

Shiner said she knows of at least four other people who have spoken to her directly, adding those four people know of other students experiencing the same symptoms. 

MUN told CBC News in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday that 21 students with similar symptoms have been examined at the student health and wellness clinic. Of those students, 11 live in residence.  

MUN says 21 students with similar symptoms have been examined at the student health and wellness clinic. (Glenn Payette/CBC News)

"I'm very upset and hurt, to say the least. I'm a first-year student at Memorial and I'm not able to go to my classes. Midterms are coming up, and it's honestly very discouraging," Shiner said. 

"It's a lot to handle, being away from home, alone, dealing with this. It's not a good time." 

Shiner said she has anxiety over her health. On top of that, she said she's still adjusting to living on her own for the first time, and still getting used to sharing MUN's campus with about 18,000 other students. 

'Betrayed our trust'

For MUN students paying for a meal plan for the dining hall, the cost for the fall semester is $2,545 for a seven-day unlimited package, according to the university's website.

For the winter semester the price is $2,570, including $100 in "flex dollars" for students to spend at other on-campus cafés, all operated by Aramark. 

Prices are the same for students opting for a five-day plan, but those plans include $200 in flex dollars.

"It's very upsetting because we're paying to go here, we're paying to learn, we're paying to eat their food and they have basically betrayed our trust in staying there," Shiner said.

"I don't plan on eating there ever again.... This has honestly been the worst thing that I've ever experienced."

MUN said that its health and safety department, accompanied by Service NL, did an inspection of the Gushue dining hall on Sept. 30.

"There were no major issues identified. The inspector stated that there is no obvious cause for concern at this time and it appears there are processes in place for food safety," MUN said in its statement.

"Memorial will continue to work with Eastern Health and Service NL to determine the cause of the illness."

Eastern Health investigating

Eastern Health said they are investigating the source of the outbreak.

"As per normal process, we are following the provincial guidelines for outbreak management to carry out the investigation. The investigation process involves a detailed individual interview to try and determine any common sources for exposure," the health authority said in a statement.

Eastern Health has also confirmed that there have been a number of confirmed and suspected cases of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli in the region and is reminding the public about the importance of hand hygiene and staying home if you are sick.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Cec Haire

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