UPDATE — Late Thursday, the Government of Canada temporarily suspended the operating license for XL Foods Inc.’s beef processing plant at Brooks, Alberta, The Globe News reported.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said the plant, known as Establishment 38, will not be able to resume operations until they it demonstrates full implementation of CFIA’s corrective actions.

More than three weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture found E. coli O157:H7 in Canadian beef produced by XL Foods, Inc, and nearly two weeks after the Canadians first announced a recall, critical information continues to trickle out about the huge E. coli recall centered in Alberta.

On Thursday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency expanded its recall for eighth time to include more products, as well as an expanded list of known retail locations that sold recalled products in the United States. Dozens of Walmart and Sam’s Club stores nationwide were added to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s public retail list. Canadian officials also reported that there are four E. coli O157:H7 illnesses now linked to mechanically tenderized steaks sourced from XL Foods in Alberta.

According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Agency, the XL Foods recall includes some 890,000 pounds of beef manufacturing trim and a yet-to-be-determined amount of boxed beef that was sent to 12 U.S. processors and further distributed. For the most up-to-date list of retailers involved in the recall — including Safeway, Costco, Albertson’s, Fred Meyer, Kroger, and others — check eFoodAlert.

The agency said Wednesday that officials have not yet determined, in total, how much potentially contaminated beef was imported into the U.S. from XL Foods before FSIS started halting product at the border after finding E. coli O157:H7 in a routine microbiological sample pulled on Aug. 30. The timeline of the large recall, which has unfolded haphazardly over several days, has consumer advocates and media questioning whether regulators moved expeditiously to protect public health.

According to FSIS, U.S. officials confirmed the positive E. coli O157:H7 test late Sept. 3 and notified the Canadian Food Inspection Agency of the issue Sept. 4. The positive test sparked intensive follow up testing by FSIS officials. Three more E. coli O157:H7 positives were reported back to CFIA between Sept. 4 and Sept. 12., which indicates the slaughter plant likely lost control of its process to prevent contamination for some time, known in the industry as a “high event period.”

CBC News reported Wednesday that CFIA did not begin its in-plant investigation of XL Foods until Sept. 13, nearly 10 days after the contamination was first reported. CFIA first issued a recall Sept. 16, but as the investigation has continued, the agency has continued to expand the scope of the recall, posting expansions Sept 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 25.

A CFIA spokesman has not gotten back to Food Safety News regarding questions about the agency’s timeline.

In the U.S., FSIS issued a public health alert on Sept. 20, but the agency is not issuing a recall “because the goal of such an action is to have the establishment most directly associated with producing adulterated product remove the product from commerce.” In this case, that establishment is XL Foods in Canada so, FSIS says, it’s CFIA”s responsibility to oversee the effectiveness of the recall in Canada, while FSIS monitors the recall stateside.

E. coli O157:H7 is a potentially deadly bacterium that can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The very young, seniors and persons with weak immune systems are the most susceptible to foodborne illness. Recalled products should be discarded. In general, ground beef products should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees to kill bacteria. Those concerned about a serious foodborne illness should contact his or their health care provider.

  • John Munsell

    This is yet another unfortunate black eye for the industry. But we must also admit, that ALL raw meat & poultry is risky to consume without proactive interventions by the downstream user, such as via proper handling and adequate cooking temperatures.
    We must also remember that FSIS has declared the Canadian meat inspection/production protocol to be “Equivalent To” that employed by FSIS in America. We should not be shocked that XL was allowed to continue operations in spite of it loss of control of its process, know in the industry as a “high event period” as stated above. FSIS allows the same scenario to occur in America. Earlier this year, FSIS issued suggested changes which would allow the largest slaughter plants to have several, even dozens of E.coli lab positives in one day before the agency can even commence discussing if the spate of positives might constitute a “high event period”. Even then, FSIS can conclude that the multiple daily lab positives do NOT constitute a “high event period”. Thus, no corrective actions to prevent recurrences are expected to be implemented by the meat establishment.
    So, let’s don’t criticize XL or CFIA, for they are fully equivalent with FSIS.
    And, the fact that the recall includes a “yet-to-be determined amount of boxed beef (these are INTACT cuts) that was sent to US processors” reveals the insanity of FSIS’ original statement in 1995 that it considers E.coli O157:H7 to be a contaminant in ground beef and non-intact cuts. The agency’s thinking was that all intact cuts are processed into steaks and roasts, which merely carry the pathogen on its exterior, which is then exposed to high temps in cooking, thus are safe. Such thinking is tantamount to sticking one’s head in the sand, such the entire industry produces tons of bench trimmings daily when processing the intact cuts. The bench trimmings are then ground, passing E.coli (originating from intact cuts) into the food chain.
    There have been a few domestic recalls (such as from Nebraska Beef) which included intact cuts, showing that FSIS is displaying “some” willingness to classify intact cuts which are surface-contaminated with E.coli to be adulterated.
    Also, FSIS claims that it wants to implement Traceback protocol. If such protocol is implemented, coupled with an agency willingness to declare that intact cuts can be adulterated, we might be witnessing a watershed change in agency attitude that it now has the courage to Force the Source slaughter plants to clean up their act. Only time will tell if the agency is sincere or not.
    I’m not terribly optimistic.
    John Munsell

  • Jane Peters

    We might have to stop eating all meat products until these clowns get their act together.