Food for thought on CFIA and tainted beef: Maybe the system actually works?

XL Foods’ bad beef has affected only 15 people, and all are alive and well

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Here’s a random example of the kind of thing middle-class food purchasers like to hear these days, taken from the website of a restaurant on the Prairies: “Comfort and familiarity are combined with sophistication in the food, drinks and atmosphere alike. Food and drink preparation in an open kitchen provides an engaging and unique environment in which guests can connect with the food as well as each other. And it’s food you can feel good about—[we use] sustainable and local ingredients whenever possible.”

There’s a powerful desire afoot for “food you can feel good about,” perhaps all the more so because of the headlines about meat processor XL Foods and its problems with a harmful strain of the bacterium E. coli. XL Foods is the country’s second-largest meat packer and exports beef to more than 20 countries. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) found E. coli O157 in a sample from XL Foods on Sept. 4 and began to organize corrective measures. On Sept. 13, two people were reported by the national Public Health Agency to have come down with bacterial illness traceable to the plant. The largest beef recall in Canada’s history began as fear spread through the country, and the Toronto Star declared that the Conservative federal government was having its “Walkerton moment.”

A couple of weeks later, with the XL plant in Brooks, Alta., hoping to meet CFIA standards and reopen shortly, one has to say that if this is the kind of Walkerton moment we can expect these days, somebody must be doing something right. The Walkerton water calamity sickened 2,500 residents of the Ontario town and killed seven of them. XL Foods’ bad beef has affected 15 people, and all are alive and well.

In the meantime, much of the terror of industrialized capitalist deathburgers inspired by local reporting on E. coli cases has turned out to be somewhat fanciful. Saskatchewan had a spike in E. coli O157 cases beginning in late August, encountering a surprising 15 cases. Officials feared a link to the recalled meat from XL Foods. Had a corporate behemoth from Alberta caused devastation in a neighbouring province? As it turns out, no. In all cases, the offending bacteria had a different genetic fingerprint, which ruled out XL as a source. Four of the illnesses were caused by undercooked or otherwise improperly handled food in one household. Another eight were attributed to the Flip Eatery in downtown Regina, which had to close for a couple of weeks and undergo an investigation by Regina-Qu’Appelle Health Region officials. You’ve probably guessed that Flip is the home of the “sustainable and local” food “you can feel good about” we mentioned before.

Here’s what Canada should really feel good about: it apparently has no worse news than the XL recall with which to consume column inches and time in question period. Some vendor at this year’s annual fair in Cleveland County, S.C., which ended Oct. 7, infected at least 38 people with E. coli. That included a two-year-old, who died, and at least seven more people whose kidneys have failed; three have had to be placed on dialysis. That outbreak has, thus far, gotten a grand total of 88 words of coverage in the New York Times. No one is suggesting a failure on any level of government. Indeed, the American food safety system, because it detected and stopped XL Foods’ tainted beef at the border, is being upheld by the parliamentary Opposition as a model for ours.

Our system is probably best judged by its overall results, and, as it happens, they suggest the exact opposite of a chaotic, crumbling food-safety apparatus. The Public Health Agency’s national enteric surveillance program tracks E. coli O157 cases across the country. Since 2006, when the CFIA introduced a new “compliance verification system” (and the Conservatives were elected), the totals have plunged from over 900 in 2006 and 2007 to fewer than 500 in 2010 and 2011. Over the past decade as a whole, the reported rate of infections has declined by almost two-thirds. So maybe, just maybe, the system works?




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Food for thought on CFIA and tainted beef: Maybe the system actually works?

  1. If the “system actually works” why did people get sick in the first place? Why did the Americans discover the Ecoli first? why did it take so long to tell Canadians?

    • You need to stop believing that ANY system is infalible. As long as human beings are involved, people will ALWAYS get sick from food because the humans doing the food handling are careless. They don’t always handle it properly or do their jobs the way they should. It isn’t “the systems”, it those of us working in “the systems”. Who do you think has a better “system”? The US, who has far BIGGER cases of food recalls FAR more often? Maybe they can comment on ours with authority because theirs have been so spectacular. This is like saying there should never be another recall on a baby crib or a car part and no one should ever die due to those faulty parts…well yah that would be great but is it going to happen….

  2. The clock says 1:55 a.m. Colby must have been in the process of making a snack before sitting down to write this.

    • Well thank goodness somebody took the time and looked at some of those unsubstantiated claims that the increased cases in Saskatchewan were linked to XL Foods. The real kicker is how many people have gone on and on how they will be using organic, local food…hmm and a full 8 people were sickened from E-coli at a restaurant that used just that. Crazy how none of that makes any national press. Not to mention the Americans wagging their finger at us when they have small cases that make our “national crisis” look pitiful in comparison and if we look at their big recalls, well those just boggle the mind because they dwarf our history-making recall.

      • Your buddies sold the company (conditionally) – recognizing they didn’t have the expertise to run the joint properly. Probably a good move.

        • Actually if you read the articles, the food giant from Brazil is taking over in management and then will have an option to buy in 6 months. So again we will have no Canadian ownership in meat processing. If you took anything away from this, Dot, it should be that the beef industry in ALL of Canada will take a kicking. There was never anything wrong with the beef product. In fact, who knows where the actual tainted meat came from…B.C, Saskatchewan, Alberta…maybe even Ontario or even the US. It was all in the handling of the raw product that tainted it. The next recalls we will hear about will be tainted vegetables due to nasty ground water or poor hygiene by food handlers. Those vegetables will likely be from California but we won’t be closing our borders and NO one will swear off eating vegetables.

          • Well, if I was the Brazilian meat packer, and I had six months to kick the tires before deciding to purchase, I’d sure as heck get my inspectors/auditors/mgrs from other plants to go over with a fine toothed comb everything in this plant. And negotiate price/sale with full knowledge of the investment req’d to get it up to state-of-the-art, and make any changes, if needed.

            This can only be a positive development. Sounds to me like the current owners of XL don’t have as deep pockets as their suitors. Recalling and disposing of millions of ponds of beef must have cost a few.

          • There are some seriously angry people here, holy man. Take your meds people.

  3. If the system worked:
    1) the American discovery of Ecoli would have set off a quick and effective evaluation of the plant
    2) the plant operators and employees would have felt compelled to assist the gov. inspectors track down the issue
    3) the plant operators would have taken responsibility from the onset
    4) the minister responsible would have taken responsibility for delays in inspectors sorting out the problems in the plant
    5) that essential hose would not have been clogged
    6) the entire episode would have been sorted out in days, it never would have left the back pages

    Just because no-one died, it still is going to be an enormous and lasting economic disaster for those in the industry. The “system” is royally fcked up.

    • “the entire episode would have sorted out in days, it never would have left the back pages”…….oh my, you honestly believe that the amount of press this incident got is ANYWHERE in proportion to the severity of the problems encountered at the plant OR that the size of the recall is in anyway in proportion to the size of the problems? You are very naive. There were far more severe problems in other plants (one being Ranchers Beef, a small plant in Pridis, Alberta in 2007 that made 40 people sick in the US ….hospitalized 23) that never even made the national papers. Why? This was all about political BS…..all about supposed cuts in inspectors. The CFIA had a full complement of inspectors in the plant (why do you think they are only getting 2 more inspectors?) yet a clogged hose didn’t get noticed…..then they shut it down and recall EVERYTHING so no one can point the finger. They order a total overhaul of the plant and then refuse to re-open it. This is the government and CFIA covering their butts and the opposition making as much noise as they can, all at the expense of Canadian cattle producers. Further, it is about a misinformed public that has no idea how common E-Coli food contamination is and honestly believes that any system can keep them safe from it. E-Coli is not only in the guts of cattle but in all human guts so anytime a person doesn’t wash their hands after they use the bathroom and handles your food, you are susceptible to food posoining by it. Now, what do you think the chances are that any “system” can work 100%?

  4. ONLY 15 people have gotten sick so far?

    A list of abuses as long as your arm??

    And that’s good???

    Are you folks crazy?

    No, srsly….are you folks crazy???

  5. Another blown up story by the MSM

  6. e.coli is killed by cooking. People must be eating raw hamburger meat, or not cleaning kitchen worksurfaces properly. Treat all uncooked meat as toxic, and clean everything that touches it, and you’re good.

    • ‘Treat all uncooked meat as toxic???’

      How be we shut XL down and jail the owners instead?!

      • Gee Emily, you going to jail the mother who made her family sick in Saskatchewan by poor food handling and undercooking the meat? How about the restaurant owners and the organic restaurant who made six people sick? I know, let’s jail everyone involved everytime there is a recall on a baby crib or a faulty car part that has caused injuries and/or death.

        • HI…you know as well as I do, that meat we buy….govt inspected meat at that…..is supposed to conform to health standards.

          Stop playing silly games with this ….you just look idiotic.

          • Emily, you would know all about idiotic but mostly you are just ill-informed when it comes to bacteria and food. If we jailed everyone who operated a food processing facility that had released bacteria-tainted food, we would have serious overcrowding problems. Although this incident has received national coverage, I can assure you that it is far from isolated and it occurs much more commonly in other foods than meat. It is very common in vegetables and cheeses. In fact, check the Health Canada recommendations regarding “sprouts”. they recommend you don’t even eat them due to their widespread tainting with E-Coli. Emily, you need to keep better informed. I could recommend a few other sites for you. Wikipedia isn’t a really great one but there are some sites of American lawyers who specialize in law cases related to food poisoning that will keep you up-to-date on current outbreaks….
            Further, XL Foods is now going to be run by a good giant out of Brazil so there really is no reason to shut it down based on the performance of the previous management.

          • ‘If we jailed everyone who operated a food processing facility that had released bacteria-tainted food, we would have serious overcrowding problems’

            Well that sums up the Alberta attitude perfectly, I’d say.

            You have a lot to learn from the Brazilians, hon

            Meantime…..

            http://www.certifiedontariobeef.com/

          • Yes, I am sure you guys in Ontario are VERY sensitive to contaminated food and water….what with what happened at Walkerton and at the Toronto Maple Leaf Food plant with Listeria. You guys are experts in dealing with tainted food….no wonder you are so appalled. I guess you want to assure the world that your products are “safe”. After all, you actually killed people with unsafe food and water. Let’s just hope you can deliver on the promises. In the meantime, you know what they say about people in glass houses, Emily….of course that never has stopped you.

          • Yes HI….MOST people are sensitive to it…..so you FIX the problem….you don’t sit on your ass making excuses or pretending it’s all perfectly normal.

          • They did fix the problem but obviously not to your satisfaction. What else is new? I am not “pretending” everything is normal. I am just pointing out that your “Ontario superior attitude” is misplaced. Also, your constant Alberta slamming is BS. We are hardly the first or last place on the planet that has this kind of incident and you know it. Given that no one from Maple Leaf Foods was jailed and that plant was not closed, I am not sure where you get off insisting that the Alberta plant deserves different treatment than the plant in Ontario received. This isn’t the Walkerton incident where it was proven that the civil servants involved HID the tests results that revealed E-Coli poisoning and knowingly put citizens at risk.

          • Not to ANYONE’S satisfaction.

            Now fix it properly, and stop being a doofus.

          • There was only twenty two deaths in that mishap at Maple Leaf. They are large on talk and short on action.

          • What did they do about it?

            What did they do about Walkerton?

            Go thou and do likewise.

      • Didn’t we hear that about MCliar before, it’s not going to happen.

        • Of course not….but if it did, we’d have fewer incidents like this

  7. this is an example of the system working? lol

    30 days before the public notified and the USA detecting?

    only 15 sick and all are fine? how about the ones that have lost part of their colons? just because no one died does not mean they are fine.

  8. Surely Maclean’s can find a way to work a Bonhomme cover into
    all this …

  9. ” Food for thought on CFIA and tainted beef: Maybe the system actually works?”

    Only if the CFIA had been the ones identifying the breakout, it was identified by the USDA as it was being imported to the US.

    CFIA is not the only scapegoat that needs to be identified here, as it is apparent that the workers either did not understand rules or could not follow them properly.

    • The purpose of cross border inspection is about economic protection more than health inspection. Otherwise they would inspect domestic product with equal vigor. That is expensive though. The benefit of banning imports of a competitors product is to keep domestic prices high for domestic businesses and support domestic jobs. The thing that motivates federal processors to follow all the plant health & safety regulations is the potential loss of international trade. International auditing committees will put the plant management on heightened alert, whereas federal audits are ho-hum.

  10. Who in neocon’s name wrote this? Conservative turncoat David Emerson, Harper’s pal and director of Maple Leaf Foods? Ultraconservative Nigel Hannaford, a Harper speech writer? Mark Steyn ? Why is Macleans such an ardent defender the Harper government?… and why don’t the authors of these partisan “From the editors” rants sign their names to them?…

  11. Oh! and about (dis)Hon. David Emerson, director of Maple Leaf Foods, he was elected in B.C. in 2006 as a liberal MP and then immediately crossed the
    floor to become a conservative minister and close ally of Stephen
    Harper? He was rewarded with federal cut backs on meat inspectors and must be happy he won’t have to recall tons of Maple Leaf and Schneiders products in the future as they did in 2008 after at least 9 people died from listeriosis after consuming their products. Lucky for Maple Leaf, the Harper government won’t send inspectors into their plants anymore saying that the meat packers can “self-regulate”…

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