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On September 4, 2012, Canada’s Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) each, independently, recovered E. coli O157:H7 from a sample of raw beef trimmings from the Brooks, Alberta production establishment of XL Foods Inc., registered with CFIA as Est. 038.

According to the Summary of Events released by CFIA, no recall was initiated, because CFIA determined that neither of the contaminated batches of product (beef trimmings produced on August 24th and 28th) had reached the Canadian marketplace.

Here are a few of the key dates and events that followed the initial findings:

On September 6th, CFIA requested distribution information and testing results from XL Foods for all products from those two production dates.

On September 12th, FSIS reported two more positive E. coli O157:H7 findings to CFIA.

On September 13th, CFIA removed XL Foods from the list of establishments eligible to export meat to the USA. But, despite the multiple findings of E. coli O157:H7 in samples of beef trimmings from the Brooks plant, and despite noting several deficiencies in the plant’s operations and sampling protocols, no public recall was announced – because, in the words of CFIA, of “…the absence of evidence that any affected product from the initial discovery had reached the marketplace.”

Nevertheless, that same day, XL Foods began to advise its customers that it was recalling beef trimmings produced on August 24th, August 28th, and September 5th.

On September 16th, Canadians finally were let into the dirty little secret. CFIA released its initial Health Hazard Alert. It was another four days before FSIS issued its first Public Health Alert for Imported Canadian Raw Boneless Beef Trim from XL Foods. Both CFIA and FSIS have issued multiple updates as the number of production dates under recall increased.

On September 18th, the Public Health Agency of Canada told CFIA that the Alberta Health Services was investigating five cases of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses; there was a possible link, CFIA was informed, between four of those cases and steaks purchased at an Edmonton Costco Wholesale store – steaks that had originated at XL Foods Inc.’s Brooks facility.

On September 27th, CFIA temporarily suspended the operating license for XL Foods Inc. (Establishment 038) in Brooks, AB after determining that “…adequate controls for food safety were not fully implemented in the facility.”

On September 29th, CFIA acknowledged in an updated Health Hazard Alert (for the first time) that four E. coli 0157 illnesses were associated with the consumption of beef products originating from XL Foods Inc. (Est. 38). The following day, CBC News reported that a total of nine cases of E. coli were under investigation, including the four confirmed cases.

So what’s my beef?

1. CFIA should have insisted on a recall of the meat from August 24th and August 28th production dates as soon as it was clear that there was a contamination problem at Brooks that involved more than a single batch of beef trimmings.

2. CFIA’s initial Health Hazard Alert should have been issued as soon as a decision was taken to recall product – NOT THREE DAYS LATER.

3. Neither the Public Health Agency of Canada nor Alberta Health Services have posted any information on their web pages regarding the E. coli O157:H7 illness investigations.

4. FSIS waited four extra days after the Canadian Health Hazard Alert to issue its own Public Health Alert.

5. FSIS still has not released a list of recalled products in the USA; nor has it released names of any of the meat processing or grinding or food service or distribution companies that are impacted by this beef recall – just a list of affected retailers. FSIS is relying, instead, on the individual retailers to post information listing recalled products.

On the plus side, CFIA has been very forthcoming with detailed recall information, including full identification of products by name, UPC, and packing or expiration dates, and retail distribution information by retailer and province/territory.

For a full list of products recalled to date in both Canada and the USA, including retail distribution information, please consult the Canada/USA Beef Recall page.

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