Canada's food safety watchdog orders fourth E. coli beef recall this month

EDMONTON – Canada’s food safety watchdog has ordered another beef recall over possible E. coli contamination — the fourth this month, including one linked to at least nine people getting sick in Ontario.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Thursday the recalls show that government safeguards are working and that consumers are not at greater risk of getting sick as long as they handle and cook meat properly.

“It shows the system works,” said Fred Jamieson, an agency spokesman from Ottawa. “I wouldn’t say there is any increase or greater risk.”

The latest “health hazard alert” recall involves Kirkland Signature brand lean ground beef sold at a Costco store in Lethbridge, Alta.

The food inspection agency and Costco are warning people not to eat the product because it may contain E. coli bacteria. The agency classifies the risk to consumers as moderate.

The agency said this is an expansion of a similar recall earlier this month of Kirkland Signature brand organic lean ground beef sold at Costco stores in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

There are no reported illnesses from the ground beef, the CFIA said. The E. coli was detected by tests done by Canadian inspectors within a shipment of 6,350 kilograms of beef imported from the U.S.

Earlier this month, the agency recalled Compliments brand Super 8 Beef Burgers sold in Sobeys, Foodland, Freshco and Price Chopper stores in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

The Ontario Ministry of Health said Thursday that the Compliments beef has been linked to nine confirmed cases of people getting sick from E. coli in the province, two probable cases and four suspected cases.

The Compliments recall was later expanded to include some President’s Choice Beef Burgers and Webers Bucket of Burgers sold in Loblaw stores that may have been distributed across Canada.

The agency said ground beef from the recalls was processed at Toronto-based Belmont Meats Ltd. and could be from Canadian, U.S. or other imported beef.

The CFIA has designated the two recalls as Class 1, or high risk.

“‘Class 1’ is a situation in which there is a reasonable probability that the use of, or exposure to, a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death,” according to the agency’s website.

The CFIA said the E. coli in the recalls was discovered after people got sick and inspectors traced where the beef they ate originated.

The agency said the cause or source of the E. coli is still under investigation.

“There is a lot of rigorous testing, but, in all cases, if it is a small low-level sporadic type of contamination it can get through the system,” Jamieson said.

Prof. Rick Holley, a University of Manitoba food safety expert, said the recalls should be treated as warnings that Canada’s food safety system is not as effective as it should be.

Holley said more research needs to be done to prevent E. coli from getting into meat-processing plants and from being transferred between cattle on farms and feedlots.

He said the CFIA needs to explain how E. coli is getting into beef products despite testing and better monitoring of meat plants.

“In my opinion we don’t have adequate control over the problem yet,” Holley said from Winnipeg.

“Regardless of all the safeguards that are in place we need to do more thinking about how we can better stop this organism from coming into the plant on the animals in the first place.”

Last fall, an E. coli outbreak from beef processed at the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., made 18 people sick, threw more than 2,200 people temporarily out of work and led to the largest meat recall in the country’s history.

A review of the outbreak blamed a lax approach to safety by both plant workers and federal inspectors. It recommended better training for CFIA staff and tighter enforcement of oversight responsibilities.

In June, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced the government would spend $16 million over three years to establish inspection verification teams to ensure rules and standards are followed.

The CFIA has also posted more information for the public about food safety recalls and meat plant inspections on its website.

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