E.coli scare hits Newfoundland, officials confirm
Published Friday, October 5, 2012 9:21AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, October 5, 2012 6:03PM EDT
The contaminated beef that’s behind the largest meat recall in Canadian history has made its way to the East Coast.
Health officials in Newfoundland confirmed Friday afternoon that one person was sick with the same strain of E.coli that has been detected on contaminated beef products processed at Alberta’s XL Foods Inc.
A release on Canada’s Public Health Agency’s website says the individual has already recovered from the illness.
Four E. coli cases linked with beef products processed at XL have also been confirmed in Alberta, as the list of recalled meat product continues to grow.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been criticized over the lag time between first detecting E. coli on raw beef produced at the Alberta facility in early September and suspending operations at the plant. However, officials with the CFIA said time was needed to conduct a full investigation.
“Our goal was to find out what was going on an act on the evidence as opposed to react to a signal,” said Richard Arsenault, the CFIA’s director of meat inspections, during a news teleconference on Friday.
The agency said as soon as the E.coli contamination came to light, processes at the XL plant changed instantaneously.
“Immediately there was enhanced oversight in that plant,” said Karen McIntyre, executive director of agrifood, meat and seafood safety. “We were making sure the carcasses were being cleaned before they were going into processing , looking and validating their maintenance program and our inspectors were checking all of the positives results that were coming in from the daily testing,”
Operations at the plant have were suspended on Sept. 27 and since then and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz has said the facility will not resume operations until the CFIA tells him in writing that proper food safety procedures are in place there.
“If you take XL foods out of the equation – they were 35 or 40 per cent – now we have only one company to send cattle to,” Masswohl said. “And to be honest that one company in Western Canada doesn’t have enough capacity to process all the animals that need to be processed in a week.”
Meanwhile, Canadian cattle producers are sounding a warning about the vulnerability of their industry on the heels of the XL Foods plant shutdown.
The closure of the key beef processing is crippling cattle farmers’ ability to get their product to market, said John Masswohl of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.
“This is something beef farmers are very concerned about – a lot of the concern is about what’s going to happen with that facility,” said Masswohl. “We raise cattle and cattle need to go somewhere to be transformed into meat. That’s the role of XL Foods.”
Masswohl added there are two main companies in Canada – XL Foods and Cargill -- that process over 90 per cent of Canadian cattle.
XL Foods spoke out for the first time Thursday, taking responsibility for the outbreak.
According to Cargill’s website, the facility in High River, Alta., is capable of processing 4,500 heads of cattle a day, churning out about 3 million pounds of beef daily.
It’s unclear at this point when the plant will open. Workers have been seen going in and out of the facility, but apparently those are maintenance staff rather than regular plant workers.
Brooks, Alta. Mayor Martin Shields told CTV on Thursday that XL has been tight-lipped and that plant workers were told to listen to a local radio station to see if they should report for work.
Following a week of stormy political debate about the massive beef recall, the company broke its silence Thursday afternoon and took responsibility for the safety breach. In a statement, XL said they will only reopen the Brooks facility when the CFIA is satisfied that proper food safety procedures are being adhered to.
Even then, it may be some time before the facility is operating at full capacity.
“When we re-open our plant under direction from the CFIA, we will start with limited production runs with intensified testing protocols,” the statement said.
The statement did not indicate how soon they expected that to happen.
On Friday Arsenault told reporters that proposed changes to the Safe Foods for Canadians Act will give the CFIA more powers halt operations at food processing plants when problems are detected.
“We need stronger authority so we not only ask for (documents) and start making demands, but we have something that will actually back that up and currently our ability do that is what it is. Moving forward our ability will be much stronger.”