Canada is strengthening its E. coli testing in summer months and will mandate labeling of mechanically or needle tenderized beef, but some omissions are notable.
• The changes only apply to meat produced at federal plants inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. How do consumers know which is which?
• The labeling requirements only apply to cuts that are tenderized at a CFIA-regulated slaughterhouse. What about cuts that are treated further down the supply system? Health Canada says it’s working on it.
• Most notable, the expanded testing for E. coli only applies to the O157:H7/NM serotype (details of the changes are at http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/meavia/man/ch4/annexoe.shtml). There is no mention of testing for other shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STECs) such as the big six (O26, O45, O103, O111, O121 and O145) which were declared adulterants by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I’m fairly sure that those slaughterhouses that want to continue exporting to the U.S. will have to meet U.S. testing requirements. As a consumer I’d like to know which meat has been produced under such a system of testing.
The changes follow an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 last fall that sickened 18 people. Contaminated product was produced at XL Foods of Alberta and led to the largest meat recall in Canadian history. Several of those sickened were thought to have consumed needle-tenderized product (with this technique, outside becomes inside, like hamburger, so should be cooked to 165F for safety reasons; I don’t know anyone that spends on the expense of a roast and then cooks to 165F).
Ritz said, “Canada has a world-class food safety system and our Government is committed to taking real steps to make it even stronger.”
Ritz said of labeling of mechanical tenderization beef, “It’s common sense, but it needs to be out there.”
“Can we guarantee there’ll never be anymore (outbreaks)? No. Anybody that tells you you can is lying to you. It wouldn’t matter how much money, how many people you have on the lines, there’s too many moving parts to guarantee an absolute. But at the end of the day, we want to take every precaution we can.”
A table of non- E. coli O157 STEC outbreaks is available at http://bites.ksu.edu/nonO157outbreaks