The recall of meat products from a processing plant in Alberta due to possible E. coli contamination has been expanded to include every province and territory, 40 states in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Tuesday it has now recalled more than 1,500 beef products in Canada from the XL Foods meat processing plant in Brooks, Alta. The expanded recall list now includes cuts of steaks and roasts, stewing beef and beef breakfast sausage.
Five cases of E. coli in Alberta have been linked to meat that originated at XL Foods, all of which were purchased at a Costco store in Edmonton.
"Officials aren't sure where the meat became contaminated," reports CBC's Briar Stewart.
The public, distributors and food service establishments are being told not to consume, sell, or serve the meat. The products in question were manufactured at the XL Foods plant on Aug. 24, 27, 28, 29 and Sept. 5.
Provincial health officials are also investigating five more cases of E. coli, which have not been linked to meat from XL thus far.
In all, there are 10 confirmed cases of E. coli in Alberta. New cases were confirmed in the province on Tuesday.
Those who ate tainted beef want answers
Those who consumed the contaminated meat know all too well how stressful the repercussions can be.
Mike Lees' five-year-old son, Elijah, had to be hospitalized after eating tainted steak. His mother, Pat, is still in and out of the hospital and family friend Matthew Harrison has launched a class-action lawsuit against XL Foods.
Concerns raised over how meat is tenderized
Lynn McMullen, a microbiologist at the University of Alberta, said bacteria can spread when needles are used to pierce meat – a process that health officials have asked Costco stores to stop using.
"To be honest, I am not surprised that this has happened," McMullen told CBC News, adding that meat tenderized this way should be labelled.
"That will alert consumers that this is being done, and then they can take the appropriate steps to make sure it's safe for human consumption."
"E. coli definitely wasn't on our radar at all," Lees told CBC News Network, adding that the "stressful" experience could only have been worse if his three-year old daughter had fallen victim.
Although he said it's hard to pin the responsibility on one group, Lees singled out XL management, those who feed cattle, and the government as parties that must work to restore public confidence in beef products.
"When we go to pick up meat at the market, we never thought about this at all until it happened to us," said Lees, who added that he will continue to eat steak, just not the way he likes it until the risks are addressed.
But little Elijah said he doesn't want to eat beef anymore.
"I have something to say, I will put my hand on my heart and say, 'gee America, nothing is worser than getting bug from E. coli,'" the boy said in an interview with CBC News.
Saskatchewan cases may be linked to recall
Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health said Tuesday 13 people were sick from E. coli last month, a higher number than the typical monthly average of zero to four cases.
The ministry said it is investigating to determine whether these cases are linked to the recall.
CFIA says the recall also includes some unlabelled unbranded beef products sold at retail stores not included on its products list. Those retail stores may include small retailers, local meat markets and butcher shops.
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The new additions are products sold in Ontario by The Kitchen Table, Zehrs, Your Independent Grocer and Valu-Mart, in Quebec by Entrepot de Viandes stores, by Brooks Meat Packers in Alberta, and Co-op, ValuFoods and Village Mart in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec.
Also added to the list are products from Real Canadian Superstore and Extra Foods stores across most provinces, along with many Dominion stores, Loblaws in Quebec, Real Atlantic Superstore in the Maritimes and Save Easy stores in the Atlantic provinces.
Consumers who are unsure if they have the affected beef products in their homes are advised to check with the store where the products were bought or to throw them out.
Little impact on beef demand, industry group says
The Conservative government was hammered with questions from Liberal and NDP MPs on Tuesday over how meat tainted with dangerous E. coli bacteria made it to Canadian store shelves, and why it took two weeks to issue a recall.
Officials say they were alerted on Sept. 4 to a positive E. coli test in beef shipped to the United States, but recalls in Canada didn't start until Sept. 16.
Canadian inspectors also had a positive E. coli test in a shipment that went to a small plant in Calgary on Sept. 4, which was part of the same shipment out of the XL Foods plant in Brooks.
On Sept. 27, CFIA temporarily suspended the licence of XL Foods to process meat.
"The plant will remain shut down until the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is convinced that it is safe to operate," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in the House of Commons.
"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."
Some industry groups add that the widespread recall does not appear to have impacted consumers buying behaviour.
David Wilkes, the senior vice-president of the Retail Council of Canada's grocery division, said it appears to be business as usual.
"It's early days but at this point in time, we have seen very little change in the demand for beef … Consumers have confidence in their grocers and the CFIA."
— With files from The Canadian Press