Statement on E. Coli Outbreak in Calgary

First and foremost, our hearts go out to the children, their families, and all those who have been adversely affected by the outbreak of E. Coli in several Calgary daycares. We cannot begin to fathom the tremendous toll this event has taken on these children and their families, both in terms of their immediate well-being and the potential long-term medical care and trauma they may endure.

We also want to acknowledge the broader harm inflicted on our communities and the early learning and childcare sector as a whole. This incident has raised numerous concerns and questions, and we believe it is essential to outline several steps that can help us move forward, hopefully preventing a similar incident and addressing the harm that has already occurred.

We refrain from wading into the critique of Alberta’s public health measures and the regulation of commercial kitchens, as we trust and defer to experts in these fields. Instead, we wish to propose measures to ensure quality early learning and childcare in Alberta, including the provision of nutritious food.

Nutrition is of utmost importance for young children, especially during a phase where they experience rapid growth and development. Quality food not only provides them with the necessary nutrition to grow and thrive but also enhances their overall early learning and educational experiences. Moreover, communal dining, where children share meals, offers numerous social benefits, enabling them to develop essential social skills, explore new foods, and observe positive food choices made by adults, which can set a strong foundation for their own dietary habits.

Presently, Alberta lacks provisions and distinct funding for supplying quality food to children in early learning and childcare (ELCC) settings. This means that the Government of Alberta does not allocate funding to childcare operators specifically for the provision of food. Childcare operators of similar size receive uniform funding, regardless of whether they offer food or snacks. Consequently, the financial burden of providing food often falls on families through parental fees. Furthermore, Alberta’s childcare regulations impose minimal requirements concerning the type of food provided or nutritional standards.

While it may initially seem like a straightforward solution to disallow childcare providers from offering food as part of their programs, this idea entails several negative repercussions. Alberta contends with one of the highest rates of food insecurity in Canada, placing families and children at risk of enduring long-term health complications and, consequently, placing a greater burden on our healthcare and education systems down the road. It would be tragic to cut Alberta children off from what has historically been a safe and nutritious source of food important for their development and health. 

In light of the recent E. Coli incident in Calgary and the escalating cost of living, including the rising expense of food, we earnestly call upon the Alberta Government to initiate funding for nutrition in early learning and childcare. We call on the government to collaborate with childcare providers to establish comprehensive regulations regarding nutrition provision in ELCC settings that are culturally sensitive and work to ensure that no child in Alberta suffers from food insecurity. We urge the development of models that enable all childcare operators to provide wholesome and safe nutrition to the children in their care, fostering an environment where children throughout Alberta can thrive.