An appeals court in Ontario, Canada is reviewing the 2009 conviction of two men for "serving food unfit for human consumption."   A central question on appeal is the incubation period for E. coli O157:H7 infections – in other words, how long after consumption of contaminated food someone falls ill. 

For starters, it is interesting to note the criminal prosecution of those responsible for serving contaminated food.   Note to Jack DeCoster and Stewart Parnell– don’t open new businesses north of the border.  Even under egregious circumstances, such prosecutions are apparently not sought here in the U.S.

In any case, two Canadian individuals who operated the Yaman Restaurant in Ontario, were convicted of serving unfit food and fined

The pair were convicted on five counts of selling unfit food, after a 2007 incident in which the water to the restaurant had been cut off due to a water-main break. Asaad and Daoud kept their restaurant open and served food. Several people who ate there later fell violently ill and tests confirmed they had contracted E. coli, with most contracting the same strain of the bacteria public health inspectors later found on chicken and a knife in the Yaman’s kitchen.

The trial judge apparently threw out two of the counts brought on behalf of people who reported falling ill within a day of eating at the restaurant.  Based on testimony from an expert at trial that the incubation period for E. coli O157:H7 is at least two days.  Another expert testified that it is possible for symptoms to occur after as little as a day, but the Judge apparently did not factor this testimony in. 

An incubation period of a single day is certainly possible.  According to the CDC

The time between ingesting the STEC [the family of illness causing E. coli bacteria, like E. coli O157:H7]  bacteria and feeling sick is called the “incubation period.” The incubation period is usually 3-4 days after the exposure, but may be as short as 1 day or as long as 10 days.

The defendants’ attorney is now attempting to have all of the convictions thrown out.