10/03/2012 12:17 EDT | Updated 12/03/2012 05:12 EST

Lawsuit alleges Alberta beef plant put profits above safety of consumers

EDMONTON - A lawsuit alleges the Alberta company involved in a massive national beef recall knew it had poor quality control systems and that it put profits above the safety of consumers.

The statement of claim against XL Foods Inc. has not been proven in court and a judge will determine if it may proceed as a class-action lawsuit.

An Edmonton man who got sick from E. coli after eating a steak on Sept. 5 is named as the lead plaintiff in the suit.

The document says Matthew Harrison, a 30-year-old realtor, suffered severe abdominal cramps, vomiting, headache, fever and diarrhea. He also spent three days in hospital.

"Somebody needs to be held accountable for this. The meat never should have left the plant," Harrison said Wednesday.

XL Foods officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Alberta health officials have linked four other cases of E. coli in the province to contaminated steaks processed by XL Foods. All the steaks were purchased from the same Costco store in Edmonton.

Officials are also investigating the source of another four E. coli cases in Alberta. And Saskatchewan officials are looking into 13 cases there.

"We're getting more and more calls," said lawyer Richard Mallett, who filed the suit Tuesday.

He said some people in British Columbia who got sick from E. coli believe XL Foods is to blame, although a link has not been confirmed.

"The people think that's the only link that it could be."

Mallett added the suit also is also available to people who didn't get sick but purchased XL products and want a refund.

E. coli was first detected at the XL plant in Brooks, Alta., on Sept. 4, but it wasn't until 12 days later that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency began recalling some of its beef products. Since then, several more alerts have been issued, recalling more than 1,500 XL products across Canada and in the United States.

The agency temporarily shut down the plant last Friday.

The suit alleges XL Foods failed to test its beef before putting it on the market and, when it learned people were getting sick, didn't immediately recall all of its products.

It further claims the plant's processing equipment and testing laboratory have not kept up with technological advances in the industry and not enough money has been spent on food safety staff.

"Despite having knowledge of the poor quality control with their Books plant, the defendant concealed this information from the consumers, the general public and regulatory authorities," says the suit.

It further says the company wanted to maintain its revenue, profits, and market share and wished to avoid negative publicity.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Edmonton man was defendant, not plaintiff.

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