The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed that five additional cases — three in Alberta and two in Quebec —have been linked to a specific strain of E. coli that has spurred a massive recall of several beef products across the country.
That means the number of cases linked to E. coli O157 is now up to 10: seven in Alberta, two in Quebec and one in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Officials stressed that the five recently announced cases are not tied to people who are newly sick, but "recovered or recovering."
Representatives from the CFIA and the Public Health Agency of Canada organized the Saturday teleconference to announce that five cases could be linked "with great confidence" to the strain that was found at the XL processing plant in Brooks, Alberta
Two targeted tests, taken together, were used to uncover the genetic fingerprint of the strain — one that had not been observed in the U.S. or Canada prior to extensive recall.
Although the federal agencies are working with their provincial and territorial counterparts, their numbers don't always overlap neatly.
Dr. James Talbot, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said that by provincial numbers there are five confirmed E. coli cases in Alberta and another five still under investigation.
"The three [new Alberta cases ] that were announced today were cases that the national laboratory for microbiology has identified as sharing the same fingerprint as the outbreak strain," he told CBC News.
He explained that one of the three is also among the five the province has confirmed, and the other two are among the five that Alberta is still investigating. All cases, however, were already known to them.
XL Foods beef recall expanded yet again
Meantime, the recall list of beef products from the XL Foods plants in Brooks, Alta., has been expanded yet again.
Dozens of meat cuts and stores have been added to the list, which now contains hundreds of products and singles out stores across Canada and the United States.
Although consumers are advised to check the master list of recalled items before consuming beef products, individual stores are working to ensure that the tainted products do not end up on their shelves.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed, for instance, that beef being sold at a Safeway store in south Edmonton is now safe to eat.
Meanwhile, in labs across the country, tests are also being done to find the source of E. coli in five other Alberta cases, as well as 13 in Saskatchewan and one in British Columbia.
The CFIA would not offer nor confirm a ballpark figure of how many cases are under investigation overall — a number they say is in flux and changes every day.
Harpreet Kochhar with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency told reporters yesterday that XL Foods had a plan in place to battle E. coli.
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, meanwhile, was under fire at the House of Commons again Friday, with the NDP demanding he apologize to Canadians and resign.
Ritz repeated that food safety remains a priority for the Harper government.
The minister has said the XL plant will not be allowed to reopen until investigators are satisfied it is safe.