Feds to study foodborne illnesses at new Calgary office

The federal government is opening a FoodNet Canada office in Calgary to collect information on foodborne illnesses.

FoodNet already operates surveillance sites in Ontario, B.C.

The federal government is again announcing new plans to beef up its food safety rules. 1:25

The federal government is opening a FoodNet Canada office in Calgary to collect information on foodborne illnesses.

FoodNet already operates surveillance sites in Ontario and British Columbia that collect information about food poisoning cases affecting Canadians while tracing the illnesses back to the source in food, water or animals.

Recent testing by FoodNet Canada found E. coli 026 in ground beef and sparked a recall of the product. (CBC)

"These surveillance sites help track foodborne illnesses and their sources, importantly," said Health Minister Rona Ambrose. "Scientists then use that data they collect to communicate information to governments, to industry and to Canadians."

For example, E. coli O26 was recently discovered in ground beef by routine sampling done by FoodNet Canada.

After sharing this information with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the product was recalled and potential cases of food poisoning were averted.

Ambrose also said the government is also increasing the number of inspectors in an effort to prevent another massive food recall from happening again, like the one at the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta.

"We have enhanced controls for E. coli in meat plants to further minimize the risk of potentially unsafe meat products entering the Canadian market," said Ambrose.

Mandatory labels 

She said the government is also working on regulations to make labelling tenderized meat in stores mandatory.

Health Canada says mechanically tenderizing meat is a "very common practice" that is used by suppliers, retailers and restaurants "to improve the tenderness and flavour of cooked beef."

For more on grocery story labelling, watch Marketplace's Food Secrets airing Friday on CBC. Erica Johnson and Tom Harrington will reveal food secrets that just may change the way you eat.

The process can also drive E. coli on the surface of the meat into the centre, making it harder to kill during cooking.

The government had suggested stores label the products last spring, but not all stores are complying.

"We had hoped that that information would be passed on," she said. "It appears that it isn't, and when it comes to food safety this is incredibly important. So, yes, we are working on posing mandatory regulations so that those products will have the information necessary to make sure that people are aware."

The new initiatives are part of the Healthy and Safe Food For Canadians Framework.


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