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B.C. cheese maker offers tearful apology for fatal E. coli poisoning

Gort’s Gouda old (No. 5) was a category winner in the 4th Canadian Cheese Grand Prix in 2004.

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The co-owner of a small artisan cheese farm tearfully apologized Thursday for contamination that has been linked to the death of one customer and the illnesses of 11 others.

Kathy Wikkerink said the family business is desperately trying to figure out how E. coli contaminated raw cheese produced at Gort's Gouda Cheese farm in Salmon Arm, B.C.

"We are so sorry and we are trying to get to the source of the E. coli, but we don't know the source and we don't know what happened," Wikkerink said, sobbing.

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Dr. Rob Parker, an official with the Interior Health Authority, confirmed that an elderly woman from the B.C. Interior who ate cheese that contained E. coli died because of the bacteria.

"I was able to follow up with the family physician of the (Interior Health) resident who had died back in August and went through the medical charts. That person did die primarily of their E coli infection," Parker said.

He refused to release the victim's age or identity.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has recalled 14 raw-milk cheese products sold online, at the farm and elsewhere in B.C. and Alberta between May 27 and Sept. 14.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said Wednesday that the victims include three people in B.C. and eight in Alberta, but the agency also said there could be more cases.

E. coli can cause severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, kidney failure and death.

An emotional Wikkerink said her family would gladly apologize to the family of the unnamed person who died.

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"We have made that plea, if that family wants to communicate with us, we will gladly apologize in person to them. But I can't undo it, God is in control, not man."

Gort's website notes its cheeses come from milk produced by cows on the farm and contain only natural ingredients with no preservatives.

The business, 450 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, began in 1983 after the Gort family immigrated from Holland two years earlier.

The Wikkerinks bought the business in August, 2007.

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