The recall plaguing Alberta's XL Foods, and that has been tied to E. coli cases in the province, is now the biggest beef recall in Canadian history.
The fourth recall in as many days on Tuesday is taking the breadth and scale of the Alberta beef recall to even higher levels.
The recall is now the largest one in Canadian history, the CBC is reporting, with more than 1,500 different kinds of meat items being pulled from shelves in every province and 41 states across the border.
The recall has sparked questions and unease from the beginning – the first person to become ill from eating tainted meat was a young Alberta girl who fell ill on Sept. 4. Health warning were later issued on Sept. 16, cautioning consumers about certain packets of ground beef.
All-out recalls were finally implemented by the CFIA, and have been coming steadily for nearly three weeks and every day for the last four days, reaching a scale never before seen in Canadian history.
Shortly after, authorities on the U.S. side of the border came under fire for what critics described as a 'stunningly' slow response to the presence of the bacteria coming into the country from Canada.
The USDA waited 17 days after learning about the threat before putting out a health warning on Sept. 20. It was then criticized for not implementing a recall, despite the fact the CFIA had already done so.
Alberta health officials originally said they were dealing with a typical number of E. coli cases for a typical September in Alberta, and assured the public none could be tied to the tainted beef coming from the Brooks plant. Health officials now confirm five cases have been linked to meat processed at the southern Alberta facility.
How it's gone down..
A fifth confirmed Alberta E. coli case has been linked to XL’s Brooks plant, Global Edmonton reported.
The person is a northern Alberta resident who became sick after consuming a steak purchased at a northeast Edmonton Costo, Global said.
Meanwhile, Saskatchewan health officials say they are treating 13 confirmed cases of E. coli in that province. The usual number of cases for this time of year in Saskatchewan is four, officials told The Star Phoenix.
Officials are now awaiting test results from those cases.
The plant at the centre of the tainted beef scare had its license pulled temporarily by federal authorities on Friday and no meat will be processed there until its license is reinstated.
But despite the daily expanding recalls, increased warnings from health officials and growing number of E. coli cases, Alberta Premier Alison Redford publicly vouched for the safety of Alberta’s beef on Sunday.
“We are very proud in this province that we grow and breed a high quality product that is marketed around the world,” said Redford from an Alberta ranch on Sunday afternoon.
“It is produced to the highest standards possible and that it is a safe source of protein in Alberta, in Canada and around the world.”
Although the Alberta leader’s blind faith may have put some minds at ease, it didn’t sit well with many.
— Lou Arab (@LouArab) October 2, 2012
Political salvos are also firing in Ottawa over the scare, with the opposition pointing to changes to the CFIA by the Harper government as the main culprit in the maelstrom.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and acting Liberal counterpart Bob Rae took jabs during Monday's question period, saying the governing Conservatives failed to alert Canadians about the tainted meat.
"Is this the best they have to offer Canadians who are worried whether the food they are giving their kids is safe?" charged Mulcair.
Malcolm Allen, the New Democrat MP from Welland, Ont., said 12 separate recall notices have resulted in the disposal of more than 860 metric tonnes — some 1.9 million pounds — of beef.
"It is the government's cuts and policies of self-regulation that have failed," Allen said.
"In this case, XL failed to protect food safety. By the time the CFIA inspectors got involved, the contamination had spun out of control."
How you feel about it..
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the federal body entrusted with monitoring the safety of the country’s food supply, told the Calgary Herald on Monday that changes will be implemented based on what’s been learned from the incidents.
The changes will allow inspectors to “connect the dots to get the big picture,” the Herald reported.
The one silver lining in the affair so far may be the fact that buyers of Canadian beef will likely not be by swayed the scare.
Buyers know what is happening in Alberta is possible and probable and aren’t shaken when they hear of such incidents, Kevin Grier, senior market analyst for Canadian agriculture think-tank George Morris Centre, told Reuters.
"Everybody in the business knows that this can happen, and it's happened in the United States,” he said.
"I don't see it having long-term implications because knowledgeable people realize this is something that can plague the industry."
The story is the same at home, with retailers reporting no real change in the amount of beef sold over the last weekend in September, compared to a month before, Reuters reported.
— nikss. (@wallerdaballer_) October 2, 2012
Symptoms of E.coli infection include severe abdominal pain, watery or bloody diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, headaches and little or no fever. Symptoms usually appear within three to four days but can occur up to 10 days later and last five to 10 days.
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