As the list of recalled beef items from an Alberta processing plant keeps growing, Hamilton has so far been lucky to dodge any cases of E. coli infection.
“We haven't had to pull any products ourselves,” said Richard Macdonald, food safety manager with the City of Hamilton.
He says as far as he knows, grocers and chains have removed any potentially tainted beef from store shelves themselves.
On Thursday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency added dozens more products from the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., to a recall that already topped 1,500 items.
The recall could grow even more as inspectors trace products from the plant to secondary and tertiary distributors, manufacturers and retailers.
The XL Foods plant is currently shut down.
Macdonald has been working in the food safety industry for 12 years, and says this is one of the biggest food recalls he's ever seen.
McMaster biology professor Herb Schellhorn echoed that sentiment when he spoke to CBC Newfoundland's Central Morning Show Thursday afternoon.
“Clearly, something has fallen through the cracks,” Schellhorn said.
“This is a sensitive subject, because clearly it is the responsibility of the meat processing plant to ensure that E. coli does not enter into consumer meat products and it is the responsibility of the CFIA to regulate meat production.”
Schellhorn, an expert specializing in E. coli research, says he was struck by how widespread the ban is and how long it has gone on.
“It seems to be potentially affecting more and more people all the time.”
There have been five confirmed cases of E. coli illnesses in Alberta associated with the consumption of beef products from the XL Foods plant. Four other E. coli cases are being investigated. In Saskatchewan, health officials are looking into 13 cases of E. coli infection — a higher figure than normal — in September.
The expanded recall came shortly after MPs held an emergency four-and-a-half hour debate Wednesday night on the situation.
While opposition MPs claimed inspection-system cutbacks had compromised the food inspection system, the government said it has hired more inspectors and that pending legislation will boost the country's food safety.
"Ranchers across this country have done nothing wrong except work hard (and) try to produce the best quality beef they can, and they have been let down by a process," Ontario New Democratic Party MP Malcolm Allen said.
Alberta Conservative MP Ted Menzies accused the opposition of trying to scare Canadians "about a food system that has some minor problems."
He added: "We're looking forward to fixing those problems."
Earlier Wednesday, the head of the CFIA said the plant at the centre of the biggest beef recall in Canadian history wasn't properly following some safety procedures.
George Da Pont said the CFIA had issued seven corrective action requests to the XL Foods plant, and was monitoring them before the agency decided to shut the plant down.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who spent Wednesday touring the XL plant with Da Pont and then held an abbreviated media conference, said the facility will only resume operation when Da Pont has confirmed to him in writing that the health of Canadians is not at risk.
"Canadian consumers have always been, and will continue to be, the government of Canada's first priority when it comes to food safety," Ritz said.
With the federal government taking heat from the opposition for its handling of the E. coli issue, Ritz was expected to be back in the House of Commons for question period today.
Meanwhile, dozens of people have joined a class-action lawsuit against XL Foods, according to a lawyer acting for a man who became sick from E. coli after eating a steak that came via the company's Brooks plant.
For a list of recalled beef items, visit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website here.