More E. coli O157 illnesses and recalls in Canada

CFIA ain’t so good at this food safety thing.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Loblaw Companies Ltd. warned the public not to consume certain Butcher’s Choice Garlic Peppercorn Beef Burgers because this product may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

By Saturday, five people were confirmed sick in this outbreak.

In Sept. 2012, at least 17 Canadians were sickened with E. coli O157:H7 linked to beef slaughtered at the XL Foods plant in Alberta.

Now, CFIA and Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. are warning the public not to consume Prime Rib Beef Burgers because this product may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 bacteria.

CFIA says, “This investigation was initiated as a result of recent product testing associated with an outbreak investigation. There may be recalls of additional products as the investigation at this facility continues.”

Are more people sick? Are these outbreaks and recalls related? Does genetic fingerprinting exist in Canada or are chromosomes still being quantified under a microscope after jumping on a telephone book on a slide containing some cells (we actually did that in early 1980s genetics).

The Calgary Herald reports this morning CFIA officials were first alerted to a potential problem with hamburgers from a Brampton, Ont. plant in early October after an Edmonton patient became ill from E. coli O157:H7 poisoning.

But nearly two months passed and four more cases emerged before the federal agency began an investigation in early December.

At that point, CFIA decided it needed to confirm that contaminated product had actually found its way into the market, so it ordered inspectors to visit more than 300 stores across Canada to collect samples.

When two samples tested positive a week later on Dec. 12, agency officials issued a health alert, and Cardinal Meat Specialists Limited began a voluntary recall.

CFIA officials did not reply Sunday to written questions from the Herald about the apparent delay in launching a recall, although a spokesman has said the agency was unable to act until it had conclusive proof there was tainted product on store shelves.

Why? Doesn’t epidemiology matter?

Where is this policy enshrined? On what basis does CFIA go public?

Brent Cator, president of Cardinal Meat Specialists, told the Herald his company makes frozen patties using beef trim from various Canadian and international processors that has been certified as free from E. coli O157:H7. However, he refused to identify the sources of the meat used in the recalled burgers.