Saskatchewan probing whether E. coli cases linked to recalled beef products
Published Tuesday, October 2, 2012 9:27AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 3, 2012 7:14AM EDT
Saskatchewan is reporting a spike in E. coli cases after it recorded 13 infections last month. The province, along with Alberta, has launched an investigation into the cases, as the nation-wide recall list of beef products grows.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health announced the spike Tuesday. The province said it normally records between zero and four cases each September.
"Public health authorities are investigating these cases and conducting tests to determine whether they are linked to the recall," it said in a statement. "Laboratory results are expected within the next few days."
Meanwhile, Alberta Health Services confirmed that it is now investigating 10 different cases of people falling ill from E. coli.
Of those cases, five are linked to the E. coli outbreak from the XL Foods meat-processing plant and involve meat purchased at an Edmonton Costco.
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Canadian Food Inspection Agency President George Da Pont are expected to give an update on the recall Wednesday, from a CFIA laboratory in Calgary.
Ritz has come under fire over how the government has handled the recall.
During Tuesday’s question period, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair accused the government of attempting to shift responsibility for the recall onto bureaucrats, while Liberal Leader Bob Rae demanded to know why the government took so long to warn consumers about the contamination.
Mulcair called on the government to take responsibility for the recall and not shirk it onto civil servants.
“You can’t pass the buck to civil servants. You can’t keep their feet to the fire. What you can do is take responsibility and be accountable,” he said.
Rae also accused the government of passing responsibility for the beef recall onto the CFIA after it was expanded this week.
But Prime Minister Stephen Harper maintained that the CFIA acted as soon as it was notified about the E. coli contamination and is continuing its investigation.
Harper rose in question period to say the agency has been working ever since it was alerted to the outbreak on Sept. 4. He also said that under his government funding for the agency has increased, as has the number of inspectors.
"On this particular case, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency acted to contain contaminated product, beginning on September 4, and has been acting ever since then," Harper said.
"The plant will remain shut down until the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is convinced that it is safe to operate.”
Parliamentary secretary to the minister of agriculture Pierre Lemieux also defended the government’s response to the beef recall and accused the NDP of voting against measures to increase resources and funding for the CFIA in the past.
After question period Rae told reporters that the government was delayed in alerting the public.
U.S. authorities found contaminated beef in a shipment on Sept. 13, and later closed its border to all beef products from XL Foods.
"Shouldn't the Canadian consumer know that?" asked Rae. "You talk about transparency, you talk about accountability. It's the consumer that's buying the meat."
Rae also said it should be the prime minister and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz who answer questions over the recall, not from the CFIA.
"We wouldn't know a soul of who those people are," he said.
Beef recall list expanded
The largest beef recall in Canadian history has been expanded to include steaks, strip loins and sausages sold coast-to-coast.
The expanded recall was announced by the CFIA earlier Tuesday as food safety officials continue to investigate the Alberta-based meat-packing plant.
Five people have suffered E. coli illnesses associated with the consumption of beef products from Brooks, Alta.’s XL Foods Inc. The company has issued at least nine voluntary recalls since September 16.
Tuesday’s recall includes unlabelled and unbranded beef products sold at a variety of retail stores, including The Real Canadian Superstore and Extra Foods stores in most provinces, most Dominion stores, The Kitchen Table, Zehrs, Your Independent Grocer and Valu-Mart in Ontario, Loblaws and Entrepot de Viandes in Quebec, The Real Atlantic Superstore in the Maritimes and Save Easy in the Atlantic provinces.
The recall also includes products sold in Alberta by Brooks Meat Packers, and in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec at Co-op, ValuFoods and Village Mart.
The CFIA is advising Canadians who are unsure if they have purchased affected beef products to check with the stores where they were purchased or throw them out.
The CFIA temporarily suspended XL Food’s operating license last week, leaving more than 2,000 employees temporarily out of work.
Last week, the United States banned all imports from XL and pulled the company’s beef from stores in 30 states, including Wal-Mart.
Over the weekend, Alberta Premier Alison Redford visited with local beef producers and assured Canadians that the province’s meat is safe.
“We certainly have a circumstance right now with respect to one company that is having challenges with respect to regulations," Redford told reporters. "But there is Alberta beef that is being produced right across this province today that is safe to eat."
With files from The Canadian Press