XL Foods Inc. says it is taking full responsibility and pledged to regain the trust of consumers as a massive recall of meat intensified today.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz repeated that the Alberta company's plant, where the E. coli contimination occured, won't reopen until he and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are assured it is safe.
The company issued a statement Thursday following further grilling of Ritz in the House of Commons by opposition MPs who accused the agriculture minister of withholding information from consumers.
XL Foods said it is "working diligently with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ... to implement changes to our food safety system to exceed existing high standards and regain the trust of Canadian consumers," and improvements will include "intensified and enhanced testing."
"We will only reopen the Brooks facility when the CFIA are completely satisfied that the health of Canadians is not at risk," the release said.
"We believed XL Foods was a leader in the beef processing industry with our food safety protocols, but we have now learned it was not enough. We take full responsibility for our plant operations and the food it produces [and are] doing everything we can to take the lead in an enhanced comprehensive food safety program for our plant," the release said.
"XL Foods has targeted prevention, process verification and correction, response and product control as areas where food safety enhancements are required."
Ritz, who earlier toured the Alberta plant, said it won't resume production until he gets written confirmation from the president of the CFIA that the plant is safe.
Ritz shot down a report published earlier in the day that the plant was reopening.
CFIA president George Da Pont said the plant will only resume processing once all required corrective action is taken. He also said the plant will be subjected to increased surveillance and testing.
"I will not be comfortable advising the minister that that plant is safe to operate until all of those things are done," Da Pont said.
Minister accused of withholding information
On Thursday, Ritz faced more grilling from the opposition parties, including from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who accused the agriculture minister of withholding information from Canadians, and pressed him to resign.
Liberal Leader Bob Rae noted during question period that meat from XL Foods was removed from the products exported to the U.S. in mid-September, before Canadians were alerted about the tainted beef.
"Why were Americans better protected than Canadians?" Rae charged.
Ritz, however, said the CFIA acted as quickly as possible on the information it had, and his office "was fully engaged ... to make sure Canadians are well-served by their food supply."
CFIA officials wanted records from XL Foods on beef produced on Aug. 24 and 28. Beef processed on those days tested positive for E. coli in tests done at the U.S. border and by CFIA on Sept. 4.
According to a timeline posted on CFIA's website, XL Foods turned over the information on Sept. 10 and 11. Based on those records, CFIA started investigating beef produced on Sept. 5 as well. On Sept. 12, U.S. officials found two more samples of beef that tested positive for E. coli. On Sept. 13, the CFIA banned XL Foods from shipping any more meat to the U.S. but didn't alert the Canadian public until Sept. 16.
Earlier Thursday, Rae had said he wants Canada's auditor general to get involved in the expanding E. coli beef recall.
Rae sent to a letter on Thursday to Michael Ferguson, asking him to "conduct a full and immediate audit of all government of Canada resources and procedures that support food safety in Canada, as well as issue recommendations for changes and improvements."
Rae said questions remain about the number of food inspectors and where they work.
Also on Thursday, the list of beef products from the XL plant being recalled due to possible E.coli contamination expanded again, and food inspectors said the recall could expand further.
The CFIA added dozens more products 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 was plant shut down on Sept. 27.
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.
- Beef recall prompts MPs' emergency debate
During Wednesday night's emergency 4½-hour debate, opposition MPs claimed inspection-system cutbacks had compromised the food inspection system. The government, however, 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 NDP MP Malcolm Allen said.
- XL Foods didn't follow some safety procedures, agency says.
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.
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.
Related on HuffPost:
While most strains of E. coli are harmless, the Public Health Agency Of Canada warns that some strains including E. coli O157: H7, can make people sick, and in serious complications can include kidney failure.
Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever that is generally less than 38.5˚C/101˚F and tend to last for five to seven days.
High risk individuals include the very young, elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can be fatal, can develop in around 5 to 10 per cent of those who get sick from E. coli O157:H7 overall and about 15 per cent of young children and the elderly. Symptoms of HUS vary. Some people have seizures or strokes and some need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others live with side effects such as permanent kidney damage.
Proper hygiene including hand washing and safe food handling and preparation practices are recommended to prevent the illness.
While E. coli is generally associated with ground meat, Alberta Health Services warns that the bacteria can also be found in foods including poultry, pork, cheese, sprouts, lettuce, yogurt, and unpasteurized milk and fruit juices and advises Albertans to take precaution.
A common bacterial infection producing severe gastrointestinal upset that can hang around as long as two weeks. It's rarely fatal in healthy people. <strong>The culprits: </strong>Improperly slaughtered or processed meat not thoroughly cooked, contaminated vegetables, milk or water. Pets can also shed the bacteria through their "business." <strong>What it feels like: </strong>You'd pay closer attention to the flulike symptoms (fever, aches and pains) if you weren't running to the bathroom every 15 minutes of your life. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have: </strong>Plucked that mass-processed pack of pork chops out of the "manager's special" bin. Also, if you really need to be told, leave seagulls alone. They're neither friendly nor tasty and are known to harbor higher concentrations of the bacteria. Common sense and decent kitchen cleanliness should protect you from needless downfall. <strong>Related: <a href="http://www.foodrepublic.com/2011/08/31/are-these-5-foods-trying-kill-you?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=food-poisoning" target="_hplink">Are These 5 Foods Trying To Kill You?</a></strong> <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuartwebster/5829527553/" target="_hplink">StuartWebster</a></em>
Contrary to what literature might have you believe, there will be no love in the time of cholera, only misery, woe and lots of diarrhea. <strong>The culprits:</strong> Contaminated water and eating raw or undercooked seafood that was hanging out in that water. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> Being slowly dried in a dehydrator that looks surprisingly like your bathroom while your abdomen is squeezed by a giant godlike fist. You might just want to set up shop in there for a spell, the toxin in the cholera bacteria causes any water in your body to "release." Replenish as you might, it likely won't stay in there very long. Keep at it diligently, though, and you'll be fine in about a week. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Splashed around in a stagnant portion of the Meekong Delta for so long, or eaten those Mexican oysters with quite as much gusto. <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/philosophygeek/3964899327/" target="_hplink">philosophygeek</a></em>
E. Coli Enteritis
The black sheep of the food poisoning world, E. coli's the one with a strain that'll actually kill you regardless of treatment attempts. How subversive. <strong>The culprits</strong>: Escherichia coli, or E. for short, has one incredibly powerful strain: O157:H7, although other related strains can cause infection as well. This bacterium is found in mass-processed ground beef and on vegetables that were improperly cleaned or handled by contaminated fingers. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> You've been stabbed in the colon, which would explain the crippling cramps and other things that might happen if one were actually stabbed in the colon, including blood. Not that there's a "better" food poisoning to get, but this is one you really want to avoid. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Eaten that rare burger of questionable origin while chugging raw milk in that crazy crowded public pool, all of which have been known to harbor the bacteria. <strong>Related: <a href="http://www.foodrepublic.com/2011/06/06/update-new-e-coli-culprit-europe?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=food-poisoning" target="_hplink">Update: New E. Coli Culprit In Europe</a></strong> <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/khawkins04/5969315133/" target="_hplink">khawkins04</a></em>
Ciguatera (Fish Poisoning)
An incurable disease caused by eating fish contaminated by coral algae toxins. A real doozy, with an estimated 50,000 cases each year. <strong>The culprits:</strong> Ciguatera is limited to fish of tropical origin. It's impossible to detect by seafood processors, and can't be killed by cooking or freezing. Live in fear of grouper, or continue on with your life with relatively minimal risk. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> At first, typical food poisoning symptoms may present, but the bigger problem with ciguatera is its severe and often irreversible neurological effects. These can include trouble sensing hot or cold, tingling "phantom limb" pain in the extremities and other symptoms that may be confused with anything from multiple sclerosis to heart failure. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have: </strong>Hit that fried "mystery tropical fish" eating contest at that Margaritaville in that tropical location with your buddies. To minimize your risk of catching this seriously unfun bug, make sure you know what your fish is and if possible, where it came from. Larger fish from shallower waters in a tropical environment are your worst bet. <strong>Related: <a href="http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/04/06/trouble-brewing-fda-and-sushi?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=food-poisoning" target="_hplink">Trouble Brewing For The FDA. And, Sushi.</a> </strong> <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/alonsoinostrosa/4055075930/" target="_hplink">alonso_inostrosa</a></em>
The range of listeria infection, or listeriosis, lands you somewhere between asymptomatic and dead and can occur from eating or drinking basically anything that was grown, raised or milked. <strong>The culprits:</strong> Raw or improperly pasteurized dairy products, vegetables grown in contaminated soil (yup, it can live in soil), preserved and smoked meats (can be identified by a slippery or slimy film), canned and raw seafood and fresh fruit. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> A bad flu, although more serious complications like meningitis can occur in people with weakened immune systems, as well as in young children, pregnant women and the elderly. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Eaten all those root vegetables straight from the ground without washing them right after milking your cow. I mean a hippie farmer's life is great, unless your land is rife with listeria. <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/9229859@N02/2575380447/" target="_hplink">bucklava</a></em>
This is the picnic food poisoning everyone warns you about, especially you, dude who brought the mayo-choked potato salad (<a href="http://www.foodrepublic.com/2012/02/10/potato-salad-horseradish-recipe ?utm_source=huffingtonpost.com&utm_medium=partner&utm_campaign=food-poisoning" target="_hplink">try this one instead</a>). <strong>The culprits:</strong> The bacteria releases its toxins at the comfy incubator that is room temperature food, which gives staph food poisoning its signature cookout-ruining reputation. The worst part? Reheating contaminated food won't kill it off. Actually the worst part is the symptoms. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> Explosive, and not in a romantic feelings kind of way. Within an hour of ingesting contaminated food, both ends will be entirely occupied for up to a day. The good news is, once it's out, it's out and you can get right back to the picnic. Oh wait, it's over. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Microwaved that leftover potato salad thinking no bug could possibly survive the ordeal. <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuart_spivack/274140418/" target="_hplink">stu_spivack</a></em>
The bacteria that causes salmonellosis, or salmonella poisoning, has a serious reputation among poultry and their handlers, and BOY does it love hanging out on the stretches of counter you missed with the sanitizer. <strong>The culprits:</strong> Although eggs, processed chicken parts and other raw meat are particularly good at spreading the bacteria, pet reptiles and rodents are also carriers. Wash everything any dead or live animal comes in contact with and maybe don't allow live animals in the kitchen while you're cooking, period. <strong>What it feels like:</strong> Your small intestine betraying you entirely. Expect a week or so of your typical diarrhea, abdominal cramps and possibly a fever. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Attempted your own Japanese-style chicken breast sashimi or let Shelly the turtle roam around willy-nilly on the cutting board. Especially before slicing said chicken sashimi. <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/vseehua/518875309/" target="_hplink">Casper Jen</a></em>
Similar to salmonella but yet so very different is shigella, which attacks the large intestine rather than the small. <strong>The culprit: </strong>You're going to love this -- human waste. While plenty of food-borne illness can be spread this way, particularly by catching a ride in food or water, many cases of shigellosis can be directly attributed to contact with... well, you know. It can also be resistant to antibiotics, so definitely practice safe sewage-wading. <strong>What it feels like: </strong>Salmonella, only with more blood. <strong>Maybe you shouldn't have:</strong> Taken on that blackout drunken dare to see what's really under that manhole by the creek, then gone straight to In-N Out. Just maybe. We live in a developed nation, you almost have to try to get this one. It's Darwinism, people. <em>Photo via Flickr user <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nathanreading/6141237661/" target="_hplink">Nathan Reading</a></em>