An E. coli outbreak at several daycares in Calgary has infected more than 300 people and sent more than 20 children to hospital.
Many of those infected are children and have contracted hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a severe kidney complication.
Dr. Iris Gorfinkel, a family physician, told Global News’ The Morning Show on Friday that it’s a “very frightening disease because it can take a well child and turn them very sick, put them on dialysis as we’ve seen, and even be responsible for chronic kidney failure.”
It’s a nightmare for any parent.
Martha Friendly, executive director of the think-tank Childcare Resource and Research Unit, said there are several things parents should look for at daycares if they are wondering whether their centre is safe.
But she also stressed E. coli goes beyond regular daycare safety issues, telling Global News that the outbreak is not normal.
“Basic kinds of things like basic health and safety, like whether the food is safe, for example, are so basic that they should be givens,” she said, speaking from Toronto.
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Alberta health inspectors visited the central kitchen for the Fueling Minds daycare network, the kitchen where the outbreak started, four times in 2023 before people got sick, with two violations noted and fixed.
Inspectors visited again after the outbreak and discovered two live cockroaches and at least 20 dead cockroaches near the dishwashing area, among other violations.
Investigators haven’t yet determined the exact cause of the E. coli outbreak, though Friendly said oversight should be stronger.
She said parents can look up health inspections on provincial health ministry websites, as well as licensing information.
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In terms of non-food contamination concerns, she told Global News parents can look for several positive signs, including staff education.
“Staff should have qualifications in early childhood education, which is training for the job, that they should have decent employment and working conditions,” she said, adding good communication between the operators and parents is also a good sign.
Friendly’s organization also lists cleanliness and the nutritional value of the food, along with clear procedures for food allergies, among a list of important factors in determining the quality of a daycare.
To some extent, she cautioned, it can be a case of “buyer beware.”
“Parents really do need to inform themselves before they decide if they’re going to trust a childcare centre,” she said.
“Parents do have a role, but they should expect public oversight.”
– with files from Adam Toy and Stephanie Swenrude
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