The largest beef recall in Canadian history expanded again Tuesday as Canadian food authorities notified B.C. retailers about the possibility of contaminated products.
Stores in B.C. received raw beef products that originated at the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., products that have so far been linked to five cases of E. coli infection in that province, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Consumers have been urged to check the CFIA’s website to see if meat products purchased are covered by the recall.
No illnesses related to contaminated beef have yet been identified in B.C., but Saskatchewan reported a spike in September with 13 cases. Lab tests are expected to confirm whether those are related to XL products.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency updated its E. coli health-hazard alert a second time Tuesday, extending the warning to include dozens of additional products, including roasts and sausages.
For smaller, independent retailers, as well as for area ranchers and abattoirs, the recall may have a silver lining, boosting business as consumers seek local alternatives such as grass-fed beef.
“It probably will (increase business) for me unless it scares consumers away totally, but I don’t think it will,” said Ron Keely, who operates Kam Lake View Meats, an abattoir in Cherry Creek.
“We’re seeing an increase,” said Margaret Jordens, owner of Summit Gourmet Meats, a city butcher shop. “We’ve had 20 to 25 calls wondering where our beef comes from.”
That doesn’t mean either operation is happy about the recall, which has so far resulted in the temporary suspension of XL’s plant licence.
For Keely, who sold his Kamloops retail arm and plans to open a new outlet next to his abattoir, fall is already the busiest time of year.
Jordens is concerned about public perception. Major retailers in B.C. are pulling products only as a precaution, she noted.
“Yes, they’ve found it in Alberta, but there’s nothing here in B.C.,” she said reassuringly. “We want to assure the public — and especially those who shop at our store — that they have nothing to fear.”
Summit’s product originates on the Devick Ranch near Heffley Creek and is processed at Rainier Custom Cutting near Barriere, she noted.
Keely said the contamination originated with large-scale feed-lot operations. The grass-fed beef he processes is far less likely to be contaminated because grass-fed cattle are known to shed the bacteria.
Small retailers and their customers are not necessarily immune to the problem, however; the CIFA warns some of the affected products shipped to small retailers and local meat markets were repackaged, leaving them unlabelled or unbranded.
The list of recalled products grew to 1,500 on Tuesday. The entire list can be found on the website of the food inspection agency (at www.inspection.gc.ca).
The onus is on consumers to ensure that they properly cook their beef, said Ken Jakes, a retired instructor in the TRU meat processing program who is filling in on relief.
“The bottom line is, E. coli is only going to affect people who don’t cook their food properly,” Jakes said. Beef should reach an internal temperature of 170-180 C. Some people still prefer hamburgers that are pink inside, a belief Jakes called “insanely stupid.”
The TRU program is unaffected by the recall since they use only locally raised beef. That doesn’t mean they’re any less susceptible.
“This situation can happen to any operation. It’s really sad. It’s unfortunate.”
As much as half of the supply originates from just two Alberta plants, a concentrated supply chain that leads to massive recalls.
“The meat industry is pretty safe. They build in all these measures around safety issues,” Jakes said. “And they take it pretty seriously.”