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February 20, 2013 – Late yesterday evening, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced that Canada Safeway Ltd. recalled a range of products because of possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination.
The health and safety of Canadians is the top priority of the CFIA. An investigation is under way at the producing facility, Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd., to examine how the burgers may have become contaminated. Our focus is two pronged: verifying that appropriate E. coli controls were applied in the facility and tracing all ingredients, which include domestic and international inputs, used in the recalled burgers. As our work progresses, additional products may be recalled.
This past December, the CFIA conducted a separate E. coli investigation after a different brand of burgers produced by Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. was recalled. At this point, work is underway to assess if and how these two situations may be linked. It’s important to note that Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. is one of the largest producers of frozen burger patties in Canada, sourcing ingredients from a variety of other suppliers. Therefore, its involvement in a recall of frozen burgers does not necessarily signal a problem in the Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. facility itself.
Last evening’s recall stems from samples of burgers taken from retail stores in response to the investigation of two cases of E. coli illness. The CFIA was informed of these cases on February 13 and based on the food histories of the people that became sick, we immediately began collecting samples of burgers from retail stores in Ontario and Western Canada for testing. The recall was initiated after our testing returned positive results for E. coli O157:H7. As a responsible precaution, Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. decided to recall all products produced on the same line and the same day as the burgers that tested positive. We are still awaiting test results to determine if the cases of illnesses are linked to the recalled burgers.
Industry has controls in place to manage E. coli at multiple points in the slaughter and processing process and we know that the incident of E. coli illnesses continues to decline. However, even in a well-functioning food safety system such as Canada’s, the presence of bacteria in raw products cannot be completely eliminated. Therefore, it is critical that consumers properly handle and prepare raw ground beef products. In particular, consumers must ensure that hamburger patties are cooked to at least 71°C all the way through. When preparing thicker patties, which are common today, additional cooking time is required, especially when patties are cooked from frozen. To be certain, consumers should use a meat thermometer. As well, consumers can prevent contamination of other foods by ensuring that cooking surfaces and utensils are well cleaned with soap and water after coming into contact with raw beef.
The CFIA remains committed to providing information on this investigation as it becomes available.