Canada Links 11 Cases of E. Coli to Tainted XL Foods Beef

Canada confirmed an 11th case of E. coli linked to meat from XL Foods Inc., an Alberta beef slaughterer, whose production is the subject of one of the largest recalls in the nation’s history.

The latest case, in British Columbia, was confirmed yesterday by Gregory Taylor, deputy chief public officer of the Public Health Agency of Canada, in a conference call with reporters.

Raw beef trimmings at an Alberta plant supplied by XL tested positive for E. coli on Sept. 4, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which began investigating last month. The CFIA has traced the contamination to five production dates during the end of August and start of September.

Trimmings -- the meat remaining on the carcass after better quality areas are cut away -- are usually ground into hamburger meat. Canadian regulators have removed as many as 1,800 products from store shelves to halt the outbreak. U.S. and Hong Kong authorities have also recalled affected meat.

The Canadian government is continuing to search for more infections. Seven E. coli cases were reported in Alberta, two in Quebec and one in Newfoundland and Labrador, a spokeswoman for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said in a phone interview yesterday.

CFIA officials will begin a detailed assessment of the Alberta plant today to determine whether XL has implemented corrective actions, said Harpreet Kochhar, executive director of western operations at the agency. XL has said it’s ready to restart production, he said. XL didn’t return a call and an e-mail seeking comment.

U.S. Recall

The Canadian meat recall is one of the largest in the country’s history, said Lisa Gauthier, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety said in an Oct. 5 press release on its website that a small amount of tainted beef has been distributed to local retailers. CFS officials are suspending beef imports produced by XL Foods after Aug. 24.

The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service has recalled 2.5 million pounds of meat, including ground beef and steaks. Neil Gaffney, a spokesman at the FSIS, said in an e-mail that the agency wasn’t aware of any confirmed illnesses related to the Canadian imports.

“It’s not just 2.5 million pounds of meat that’s contaminated, but that’s been ground and reground into tens of millions of pounds of meat,” Bill Marler, a lawyer at the Seattle-based firm Marler Clark, which specializes in food poisoning cases, said in a phone interview yesterday.

Hamburger Meat

“It’s a small component of hamburger that’s been shipped to dozens of states,” said Marler, who’s representing two Canadians whom he says have been affected by the outbreak.

XL, a subsidiary of closely held Nilsson Bros. Inc. based in Edmonton, Alberta, had its operating license suspended last month. XL said in an Oct. 5 statement that it regretted the illnesses and was fully committed to working with Canadian regulators to enhance its food safety system.

Canada has an average of 440 cases of E. coli infection a year, according to the Public Health Agency. Some strains of the bacteria can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, and it can be fatal in 5 percent to 10 percent of those infected. E. coli causes about 73,000 cases of food poisoning and 61 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since 2002, the number of recalls and outbreaks from the meat industry has dropped dramatically because of more government inspection and company intervention, Marler said. Most recent outbreaks in the U.S. and Canada have been linked to leafy greens, he said.

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