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For the second time this year, ground beef products from a Canadian meat company have been linked to an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses.

Earlier today (December 17th), the Public Health Agency of Canada reported that five cases of E. coli O157:H7 – three in Ontario and two in Alberta – were “confirmed to be linked” to the strain of E. coli O157:H7 that was found in certain frozen beef burgers from Cardinal Meat Specialists.

The three male and two female outbreak victims identified so far range in age from 10 years to 59 years, and became ill between early September and late November. One person was hospitalized; all five either have recovered or are recovering. Fortunately, none of the victims developed hemolytic uremic syndrome.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued its first Health Hazard Alert and recall notice to the Canadian public on December 12th, and continued to update its alerts as it obtained more test results. Ten product samples, representing four production date codes, of Butcher’s Choice frozen beef burgers tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. All have been recalled.

As of December 17, 2012, the following products have been recalled as a result of this outbreak investigation:

  • Butcher’s Choice Garlic Peppercorn Beef Burgers (1.13 kg pkgs; UPC 0 60383 89363 7; All product codes); distributed nationally through Loblaw Companies Ltd. banners
  • Butcher’s Choice Hickory Barbecue Beef Burgers (1.13 kg pkgs; UPC 0 60383 89364 4; All product codes); distributed nationally through Loblaw Companies Ltd. banners
  • Cardinal brand Prime Rib Beef Burgers (1.13 kg pkgs; UPC 0 63351 01561 1; Best before code 2013 JL 31 EST 752); distributed nationally

CFIA launched its investigation of Cardinal Meat Specialists on December 5th, once the Public Health Agency of Canada established that this cluster of five illnesses was potentially linked to frozen burgers produced by that company. As of today, one production day of the recalled burgers has yielded the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7; a second production day has been confirmed to be contaminated with a different strain. Genetic profiling of the microbes recovered from the other two E. coli O157:H7-contaminated production days is still in progress.

The agency is now investigating all of the ingredients – including spices, domestic beef and beef imported from Australia and New Zealand – to determine the source of the contaminants. Depending on the results of this part of the investigation, additional products may be recalled.

Advice to Consumers

  • If you have purchased frozen beef burgers, check your freezer to determine whether your burgers have been recalled. DO NOT use a recalled product; either discard it in a secure fashion or return it to the store.
  • If you have eaten a burger – especially one that was not well done – and you think that you are experiencing symptoms of E. coli O157:H7 gastroenteritis, seek immediate medical attention. Be sure to mention the suspected connection between your symptoms and the food that you ate.
  • Always cook ground meat and meat mixtures (including burgers) to an internal temperature of 71°C (160°F). Do NOT rely on appearance (color or texture) to determine whether your meat is well done.