Pesticides found on Chinese herbs bought in Canada

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Greenpeace samples test positive for residue, Health Canada’s says no pesticides detected

CBC News

Posted: Jul 3, 2013 5:43 AM PT

Greenpeace found toxic levels in traditional Chinese medicine

Greenpeace is raising red flags about herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine after it says it found toxic levels of pesticide residues in herb samples bought in Europe and in North America.

The investigation conducted in seven countries also took samples from stores in Chinatowns in Toronto and Vancouver, and sent them to an independent lab in China for analysis.

Eric Darier, who works on Greenpeace’s agricultural campaign, said some of the herbal remedies were found to be more like pesticide cocktails.

“Internationally, we were shocked by the quantities of pesticide residues we found in all the samples, some of them with alarming numbers. For example, in Canada, the honeysuckle had over 24 pesticide residues,” he said.

Greenpeace tested a number of herbal products sold in Chinatowns in Toronto and Vancouver, including Chinese honeysuckle. It said test results in one honeysuckle sample showed residues from 25 pesticides, and levels that exceeded EU concentration limits for seven of those chemicals.

Greenpeace tested a number of herbal products sold in Chinatowns in Toronto and Vancouver, including Chinese honeysuckle. It said test results in one honeysuckle sample showed residues from 25 pesticides, and levels that exceeded EU concentration limits for seven of those chemicals. ( of those who sell Chinese medicine say there are safeguards in place at both local and federal levels.

Michael Chung, a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine in Vancouver, said consumers should be concerned about pesticides in their herbs or foods, but good doctors can also be good gatekeepers.

“As a practitioner … we have always been emphasizing the safety of the herbs we give to our patients,” he said. “No matter if it is in powder form or the raw herbs form, we always check with our suppliers to make sure they are safe.”

Albert Fok, a Chinese traditional herbalist in Vancouver, said in his view, government regulations keep the products safe for consumption.

“The government of Canada, Health Canada in particular, they have very stringent rules for importation. The CFIA , the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, is very diligent, very stringent and very zealous on food inspection so those who made it to the retail store are relatively quite safe,” he said.

Health Canada says it has not detected the presence of pesticide in traditional Chinese medicines sold in Canada.

In a statement sent to CBC News, the federal ministry said over the past five years, government labs have analyzed samples of traditional herbs where toxic residue was suspected but so far none has ever been detected.

With files from the CBC’s Petti Fong

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Expired infant formula found on B.C. store shelves


HACCPCanada advocates and mandates HACCP System Certification; with an emphasis on providing Food Safety Confidence to the Consumer. We are a Third-Party Auditor and a Certifying Body (an independent & impartial national organization which evaluates and verifies HACCP systems) and have succeeded in furnishing an economical, effective and expedient Certification Process for the Retail Food Supply Chain including Non-Registered Manufacturing, Warehousing, Logistics, Restaurants and Retail Food Outlets.

Contact us to achieve Certification from HACCPCanada, today!


Formula with expiry date of June 2012 for sale in Vancouver

CBC News

Posted: Jan 22, 2013 2:03 AM PT

Potentially harmful expired baby formula has been found on some Vancouver-area supermarket shelves in violation of federal food safety guidelines, a CBC News investigation has found.

The sale of past-dated formula would carry hefty penalties in several U.S. states, but in Canada, federal and provincial regulations lack clout.

CBC News took hidden cameras into about a half-dozen supermarkets and discount retailers across Metro Vancouver and found expired infant formula in two of them.

‘If they do sell it, they should be definitely getting fined for it.’—Amanda Lee, a Vancouver mother

President’s Choice Soy Infant Formula, a liquid, was found for sale more than two months past its expiry date at a Real Canadian Superstore in North Vancouver.

A PriceSmart store in East Vancouver was selling Isomil Infant Formula powder that was seven months out of date.

According to guidelines set out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada, these products should not have been offered for sale to the public.

Differs from ‘best before’

Unlike best-before dates, expiry dates apply to food that can’t be compromised. Infant formula is often the sole source of nutrition for babies. The CFIA says once that date is passed, the food should be discarded, not sold.

“Best before” means a product may be safely eaten after the specified date, although nutrition may be compromised.

The supermarket chains where the expired baby formula was found say they are taking the matter very seriously and reinforcing procedures now in place so this doesn’t happen again.

Still, Vancouver mother Amanda Lee wants to know why expired baby food products were left on store shelves.

Lee’s four-month-old son, Nathaniel, recently became dehydrated following an infection and now needs to have infant formula.

“If you have somebody stocking it, first of all, it’s right in front of their faces and they’re putting it onto the shelves. Why can’t they take two seconds out of their lives to actually just peer at it,” Lee said. “Tell your managers or something. Honestly, there’s no excuse for it, and yes it does anger me.”

Woodstock, Ont., mother Melodie White claims her son became seriously ill in 2011 after eating baby food nine months out of date. She settled out of court with Zellers, where she bought the food.

“He was vomiting, he had chills, he had fever, he had diarrhea,” White said. “We’re talking full-blown food-borne illness here.”

U.S. penalties

Pediatrician-turned-politician Dr. Richard Pan is behind a new California law making it illegal for retailers to sell expired baby foods and formulas.

“This should not be ‘buyer beware.’ This should be something people should be able to count on,” said Pan, a member of the California State Assembly. The law he authored came into effect Jan. 1.

The state of New Jersey fined K-Mart $300,000 for selling expired infant formula and baby food, while similar legal actions in Pennsylvania and New York also resulted in fines against retailers ranging from $250,000 to $2 million.

In Canada, federal guidelines contain no listed penalties. Checks of supermarkets in B.C. are often left to local health inspectors, who can be far busier examining restaurants and meat counters than store shelves.

Claudia Kurzac, manager of health protection with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, told CBC News that all her inspectors can do is tell stores to remove expired products if they are found.

“We don’t have any provincial legislation that governs expiry dates,” Kurzac said.

Lee said that’s not good enough.

“Our government should be stepping up … and banning everything. And if [the stores] do sell it, they should be definitely getting fined for it,” Lee said.

E. coli source likely lettuce at KFC/Taco Bell

Product recalled, no new cases expected, health officials say

CBC News

Posted: Jan 11, 2013 4:57 PM AT

The source of a potentially deadly strain of E. coli in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario was likely lettuce served at KFC/Taco Bell outlets, health officials say.

All suspect lettuce has been recalled, they said Friday afternoon.

“The evidence from our collaborative investigation leads us to believe that the common food source was distributed to this fast-food restaurant chain,” said Dr. Frank Atherton, Nova Scotia’s deputy chief medical officer of health.

“Lettuce has a limited shelf life, and we have not seen a new case in more than a week. This tells us it is highly unlikely the food item remains in the food chain. As an added precaution, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is issuing a recall of the lettuce products.”

He added that the fault did not lie with the restaurants, but with FreshPoint, the company that supplied the lettuce.

No new cases of E. coli O157 are expected, officials said.

Nova Scotia has had 10 confirmed cases of E. coli O157 in the past couple of weeks. At least five are linked to the outbreak.

New Brunswick has also had six confirmed cases, while Ontario has had five. All of the patients have been treated and are recovering, Atherton said.

Dr. Eilish Cleary, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer, said it was hard to pin down the particular outlet. The lettuce was distributed to other fast-food chains, but the cases were all linked to Taco Bell/KFC.

“When we looked at the food history of our patients, they had eaten at several locations, so we were unable to pinpoint exactly which ones they were exposed at,” she said.

Sabir Sami, president of KFC/Taco Bell parent company Yum Restaurants, said his company takes the developments seriously.

“We’re obviously concerned, as this lettuce provided to us by FreshPoint has been distributed to many area restaurants in Canada, including ours,” he said in a news release.

“We have removed all the affected lettuce from our restaurants in Canada and want to reassure our customers that our food is perfectly safe to eat. The health and safety of our customers is our top priority.”

E. coli O157 is the same strain that killed seven people in Walkerton, Ont., in 2000. It secretes a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness, high blood pressure and kidney damage.

Romaine lettuce was determined to be the likely source of an E. coli outbreak in Miramichi., N.B., in April. At least 13 people in the northern New Brunswick city were infected with that strain of E. coli O157, while another 11 people may have also been infected with that strain, officials said at the time.


CBC News: ‘National’ E. coli outbreak probe looks to fast food

E. coli O157 confirmed in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario

CBC News

Posted: Jan 9, 2013 12:18 PM ET

Dr. Eilish Cleary believes the source may no longer be a threat because no new cases have been diagnosed.
Dr. Eilish Cleary believes the source may no longer be a threat because no new cases have been diagnosed. (CBC)
A “national outbreak” of a potentially deadly strain of E. coli may be linked to fast food restaurants, health officials say.

Six cases of E. coli O157 have been confirmed in New Brunswick, while Nova Scotia has had five and Ontario four.

An additional five E. coli cases identified by Nova Scotia health officials are still awaiting confirmation from the national laboratory in Winnipeg to see if they are from the same strain.

The source of contamination is still under investigation, but Dr. Eilish Cleary, the chief medical officer of health in New Brunswick, believes they could be connected to fast food restaurants.

“In our investigation, one of the significant facts is that all of these individuals have eaten in fast food restaurants, but there are a number of different restaurants that they’ve eaten in, and they all have consumed a wide range of food, including meat products and produce,” Cleary said on Wednesday.

Officials believe the source may no longer be a threat, because no new cases have been reported since the holidays, and the normal incubation period is 10 days, she said.

Although the sixth case in New Brunswick was only confirmed on Wednesday, it was not a new case, said Cleary. The Fredericton patient was diagnosed over the holidays, like the others, but the case was previously attributed to one of the other provinces because the individual travels back and forth, she said.

“So it’s really a numbers reconciling as opposed to a new individual in Canada,” she said, declining to say which other province the case had been attributed to, citing patient privacy.

“So we’re hopeful that whatever it was that caused the exposure has come and gone from the food chain here.”

Still, it should be easier to narrow the source down now with all three provinces comparing notes, said Cleary.

“The more you have to compare, in terms of numbers, the greater the likelihood that we will identify something.”

Dr. Frank Atherton, Nova Scotia’s deputy chief medical officer of health, agrees.”We still have a very large provincial role to play but we need to look at it in the context of what’s happening in those other provinces,” he said.

“We know that there’s a common source for this infection across the three provinces. That’s important because it means, really, this is now a national outbreak.”

National advisory issued

E. coli O157 is the same strain that killed seven people in Walkerton, Ont., in 2000.

This particular strain of E. coli secretes a powerful toxin that can destroy red blood cells, leading to severe illness, high blood pressure and kidney damage.

E. coli O157 is the same strain that killed seven people during the tainted water scandal in Walkerton, Ont., in 2000.

E. coli O157 is the same strain that killed seven people during the tainted water scandal in Walkerton, Ont., in 2000. (CBC)The Public Health Agency of Canada has issued an advisory about the latest outbreak in the three provinces.

“Products contaminated with E. coli O157 can pose a serious public health risk,” the release states.

“Since early January 2013, the agency has been leading a committee to investigate these illnesses that includes public health and food safety experts from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Health Canada and provincial health authorities,” it states.

“Based on the ongoing epidemiological and microbiological investigations conducted to date, it is likely that the people involved all got sick from the same source.”

E. coli can be transmitted by eating under-cooked meat, food contaminated during preparation, or from another person infected with E. coli.

Dr. Robert Strang, the chief public health officer in Nova Scotia, has said the likely source of the outbreak is produce.

One of the possibilities being investigated is lettuce that may have been chopped or processed, he said.

Of the New Brunswick cases, two were in the Saint John region, while four were in the Fredericton area. All six patients are recovering, including the one who had to be hospitalized and has since been released.

Of Nova Scotia’s 10 cases, five were in the Capital District Health Authority, two in the Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority, and one each in Pictou County, Cumberland and Colchester East Hants health authorities. Those patients have all recovered, or are recovering.

E. coli O157 led to the biggest beef recall in Canadian history last fall. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recalled more than 1,500 beef products that were packed at XL Foods, a meat processing plant in Brooks, Alta.

It also put two Fredericton teenagers in hospital in July.

Another outbreak of E. coli O157 in Miramichi in April hospitalized at least 13 people.

Symptoms of E. coli O157 resemble gastro-intestinal illness, such as severe cramps, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting.

Precautions include thorough hand washing after using the bathroom or changing diapers, peeling all raw vegetables and fruits before eating, thoroughly cooking all meat and preventing contac

t between cooked foods and raw poultry or other meats.



CBC News: XL Foods warned 6 times over lapses before E. coli outbreak

Correction Action Requests issued at Alberta plant for sanitation, contamination

CBC News

Posted: Jan 8, 2013 10:56 AM ET

Cattle in pasture beside XL Foods' Lakeside Packers plant at Brooks, Alta., on Oct. 1. Reports from CFIA inspectors that were released under Access to Information show the plant was reprimanded six times in the months leading up to an E. coli outbreak last summer.Cattle in pasture beside XL Foods’ Lakeside Packers plant at Brooks, Alta., on Oct. 1. Reports from CFIA inspectors that were released under Access to Information show the plant was reprimanded six times in the months leading up to an E. coli outbreak last summer. (Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

An Alberta meat-processing plant at the centre of Canada’s largest beef recall was ordered to address serious problems six times in the months leading up to an E. coli outbreak last summer, documents obtained by CBC News show.

The issues identified by Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors at the Brooks plant, known as Establishment 38, included:

  • Failure to sanitize cutting tools and workspaces.
  • Improper labelling.
  • Mixing of edible and inedible parts of carcasses.
  • Lapses in building maintenance that saw condensation from pipes dripping onto carcasses.

The details are contained in six Corrective Action Requests (CARs) and followup reports obtained by CBC News under Access to Information requests.

The XL Foods plant’s licence was suspended on Sept. 27 because of concerns about E. coli contamination and deficiencies identified by the CFIA at the facility.

The suspension came weeks after an alert was issued by U.S. inspectors who discovered the presence of E. coli in a shipment of beef from XL Foods. At least 18 people were made ill from meat traced to the plant, and a recall expanded to more than 1,500 products while tonnes of beef from the plant had to be destroyed.

CARs are issued by CFIA inspectors in a plant when a formal response is required from the company “to ensure changes that are needed to be taken to allow the facility to be in compliance with the various federal acts and regulations are completed,” according to the CFIA.

An in-depth investigation carried out after the detection of E. coli in September resulted in six more CARs being issued and completed before the plant was allowed to open in late October.

But the CARs released Monday show problems had been identified at the plant months earlier.

A CAR issued on Feb. 14 cited improper building maintenance, including a blast freezer door that did not properly close, exposed insulation, a missing seal on a washroom door and other violations, while also noting that earlier work orders issued to fix some of the problems had not been carried out. A month later, following an extension, a followup report found the issues had been addressed. The serial number for this CAR suggests the concerns dated to 2011.

5 more CARs issued

After that, starting in May, five more CARs were issued, mostly due to violations of sanitation and operational procedures. These included:

  • A May 5 inspection that found “cows and bulls dragging on equipment wash platform” in around the pre-break room, improper sanitation of the saw used to cut the necks of the animals, “necks and shanks” pulled over buckets of inedible byproducts, use of unlabelled sanitary spray bottles and contamination of carcasses. Followup inspections found continued problems.
  • A June 7 inspection that found poor monitoring of product labelling, and missing labels and paperwork for pallets and boxes of meat.
  • A June 26 inspection that found workers were not properly washing cutting tools and hooks while cutting carcasses, and not cleaning contaminated carcasses before cutting them. The report says production was stopped for three minutes while “team members were removed and retrained before continuing.” Another employee who was not sanitizing a knife between cuts through a hide was “removed and replaced.”
  • An Aug. 7 CAR reporting production was stopped for 35 minutes and 315 carcasses held back “for water dripping on carcasses” in the carcass-cooling room from “condensation formed and dripping from rails, pipes, refer drip pans and structure.” In a followup inspection three days later, the CFIA inspector identified “plastic (sic) overflowing with unsanitary water and condensation dripping from rails/structures” in the killing room, and “initiated action to hold 765 carcasses from start of production until time of incident.”
  • An Aug. 20 inspection that raised concerns about employees’ sanitation practices and sanitary conditions on cutting tools, computers, cutting boards, trim stations and floor areas.

CARs were ‘effectively addressed,’ CFIA says

The CFIA reports list both immediate actions taken by inspectors and followup plans to meet the corrective actions.

The followup reports indicate each of the CARs were closed within a week to five weeks of the orders being issued, and most involved retraining and interviewing of employees to ensure they understood proper sanitation and operational procedures.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the CFIA said “all of these CARs were effectively addressed by the company and were closed within the time-frame required by the CFIA.”

“CFIA inspectors are in constant communication with plant management throughout the production day at federally registered meat establishments. When an inspector observes a potential issue of concern, they inform plant management,” the statement said.

The XL Foods plant was allowed to reopen Oct. 23 under enhanced surveillance and increased testing protocols, with more than 46 CFIA inspectors assigned to monitor slaughter procedures.

JBS, the company that runs the XL Foods plant, said it had no comment because these issues came up before it took over the management of the plant in mid-October.

Looking over the documents, beef expert Ted Haney said he isn’t surprised.

“There’s no such thing as zero risk, there’s no such thing as perfection,” he said. “It was reported, which is good, which means it was acted upon.”

CFIA – Corrective Action Requests XL Foods


Salmonella found in Canadian commercial animal feed

CBC News investigation finds salmonella in 2 out of 12 bags

By Joanne Levasseur and Leif Larsen, CBC News

Posted: Dec 19, 2012 4:24 AM CST

Last Updated: Dec 19, 2012 7:39 AM CST

Canadian food inspectors find salmonella in more than 10 per cent of commercial animal feed they test despite a zero tolerance stance, a statistic that has food safety experts alarmed, a CBC News investigation has found.

“We’ve got to do something about the presence of salmonella in the animal feed,” says Rick Holley, a food sciences professor at the University of Manitoba.

“It’s just insane to think we are going to be able to prevent [outbreaks] from happening unless we do something about it.”

Rick Holley of the University of Manitoba says he believes there's a link between salmonella contamination in animal feed and contamination in meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Rick Holley of the University of Manitoba says he believes there’s a link between salmonella contamination in animal feed and contamination in meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts. (CBC) 


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) told CBC News it does not accept any amount of salmonella in animal feed, and takes any detection seriously.

However, the agency has confirmed that it finds salmonella in 13 per cent of the feed it routinely tests.

To confirm just how prevalent salmonella in feed is today, CBC News purchased 12 bags of animal feed from retailers around Winnipeg and asked Holley to test samples for salmonella.

Results showed two out of the 12 bags of feed, or about 17 per cent, contained salmonella.

There are, on average, 6,700 cases of salmonella-related illness in Canada each year, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. These cases result in about 800 hospitalizations and three to five deaths annually.

According to Holley, animals contaminated with salmonella produce contaminated manure, which farmers then spread on fields as fertilizer.

Earlier this month, the CFIA issued a warning about hazelnuts that may be contaminated with salmonella.

Link between animal feed, human food?

Holley said he believes salmonella in animal feed is one of the ways our meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts are becoming contaminated. Other researchers and a CFIA official seem to agree.

“Reducing the potential for animals to be infected with salmonella reduces the potential that those animals will shed the organism and, as a result, contaminate animal-derived foods,” said Paul Mayers, the CFIA’s vice-president of policy and programs.

However, Mayers also said the CFIA takes a “risk-based” approach after it detects salmonella.

CBC News had samples from 12 bags of animal feed tested in Rick Holley's lab in Winnipeg. The feed in two of the bags contained salmonella.

CBC News had samples from 12 bags of animal feed tested in Rick Holley’s lab in Winnipeg. The feed in two of the bags contained salmonella. (CBC)



“If you have the situation where you have [an animal] that’s not susceptible to salmonella infection, and you have a very low-risk feed, then the corrective action that’s employed may be different than in a [high-risk] situation,” he said.

Mayers said among the most severe corrective actions include product destruction and mandatory CFIA-issued recalls.

He would not indicate what the least severe responses would be, but he said a “corrective action is always required.”

Mayers also declined to give examples of when the CFIA has issued mandatory recalls for salmonella in animal feed.

But one Manitoba feed producer says the CFIA is only concerned with six of the more than 2,500 strains of salmonella, and it lets the feed enter the market normally if it doesn’t detect one of those six strains.

When CBC News shared its testing results with the companies that manufacture the sampled feed, officials with those companies said they were not concerned and would not remove the products from shelves.

Melissa Dumont, director of technical services for the Animal Nutrition Association of Canada (ANAC), which represents feed manufacturers, would not comment directly on the CBC News test results.

However, she said salmonella is “everywhere in the environment…it’s very hard to control, so there’s a possibility that we can find salmonella in [animal] feed.”

When asked about the link between salmonella in feed and human illness, Dumont said she’s not convinced.

“I can only speak of the science that I’ve seen, and right now the link is not evident, if there at all, at this point in time,” she said.

‘I was ready to die’

Lynn McMullen, a professor of microbiology at the University of Alberta, said she was the victim of severe salmonella poisoning.

“I came home from California on a Sunday, and by about 7 o’clock Sunday night, my body was aching. By midnight I couldn’t decide which end of my body should be over a toilet,” she recalled.

McMullen said her doctor initially would not requisition a test for food poisoning, insisting that the problem would take care of itself.

McMullen pushed for the test, which came back positive for salmonella.

Because she was likely exposed while travelling, McMullen was not able to find out how she was infected.

McMullen said salmonella poisoning was one of the worst things she has ever gone through.

“I would never wish this on my worst enemy…I actually was at the point where I was ready to die, it was so bad,” she said.

FDA changes import rules on salmonella

As late as in 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, like the CFIA, enforced a zero-tolerance policy for salmonella in animal feed.

This led to an import alert against four Canadian canola processors in 2009 and 2010, after several shipments of canola meal — a byproduct of the canola oil industry and a popular ingredient in animal feed — tested positive for salmonella.

For more than a year, the FDA effectively shut the U.S.-Canadian border to canola meal from Bunge, Viterra, ADM and Cargill plants in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

Hundreds of shipments were stopped during this period.

But in late 2010 and early 2011, the import alert was lifted after stakeholders petitioned the FDA to relax the way the regulator deals with salmonella in feed.

Robert Broeska, president of the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association, says his group worked with the FDA and other American regulators to narrow the focus of their import restrictions.

As a result, only eight of more than 2,500 strains of salmonella are currently banned from animal feed entering the U.S. These eight strains were singled out for causing sickness in animals.

When asked if salmonella in canola meal could put people at risk, Broeska said he doesn’t think humans consume canola meal directly.

“Canola meal is used for a protein ingredient in livestock feed. So it is really the concern of the feed industry as well as the crushing industry,” he said.

Zero tolerance in Scandinavian nations

Some European countries take the threat of salmonella in the food chain much more seriously than Canada does.

Ola Magnus Loemo, a spokesperson for Norway’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food, says Scandinavian countries “established strong national [salmonella] surveillance-regimes” in the mid-1990s and fought to implement tight controls on salmonella while negotiating European Union treaties.

Loemo said as a result, salmonella outbreaks are very rare in Norway, and “the majority of those cases [almost all] could be traced to contamination abroad.”

Holley said he would like to see Canada take similar steps, and he sees cleaning up our act when it comes to feed as being part of that.

“We can’t possibly hope to reduce the frequency to which these animals that we use as food shed salmonella with the hope that [our food] will not be contaminated unless we stop feeding [salmonella] to our animals,” he said.


CBC News: Is Canada’s food safe?

Public health officials reported 6,800 cases of salmonella last year

A CBC News examination of Canada’s food safety record over the last decade reveals mixed results.

A decade ago, nearly 1,200 cases of E.coli per year were reported by the provinces.  The number shrunk to 428 in 2011, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.  But illnesses from salmonella are much higher in absolute terms.

Last year, public health officials reported 6,800 cases and 6,200 cases were reported in 2002.  Eight years later, the number jumped to 7,200, pointing to an upward trend.

Calgary father on dealing with E. coli

Robert Boschman’s daughter, Christie, was three years old when she got E. coli poisoning from eating cold cuts.  Boschman, an English professor at Mount Royal University, was out of town when he received a “hysterical” phone call from his then wife, Tracy.

So what happened to the once promising drug Synsorb?

In the late 1990s, Synsorb PK was a promising enough treatment for E. coli poisoning that it was often approved for emergency use for outbreaks in Canada and the United States, including Canada’s most serious outbreak in Walkerton, Ont., in 2000.

However, Synsorb PK was never approved and the company folded.

According to David Cox, the chief executive officer of Synsorb Biotech, early analysis of Synsorb PK suggested that it be given to children within six days of the onset of E. coli symptoms.  He said the results of the Phase 3 trials showed there wasn’t a compelling difference between patients who were treated with Synsorb PK and those who received a placebo.  What the trials did show was that if the children were treated within two days of onset, Cox said, there was a significant improvement with the drug.

“We had a choice at that point,” says Cox. “We could re-submit the drug for approval based on treating the children within two days. We would have new trials, essentially starting over.”

Cox said there were concerns about finding patients soon enough after they became sick, since many parents at first assume E. coli illness is simply a flu and may not get their children to the hospital within the two-day window.

“We ran the numbers and there didn’t seem to be enough of a chance we would get the patients. The trials would cost $30 to $40 million dollars and take a further six years.”

The company made the decision not to continue.  Their daughter Christie was at the Alberta Children’s Hospital with acute bloody diarrhea.  When he arrived at the hospital, Christie was lying on a gurney as white as a ghost.  Luckily for Christie, the hospital was testing an experimental drug called Synsorb.

Doctors gave her the drug and within 24-hours she was feeling better.  Boschman credits the drug for bringing his daughter quickly back to health and avoiding the organ damage that happens when E. coli poisoning progresses to its most advanced stage.

“Within 24 hours, Christie was on the mend. We felt that we had just dodged a major bullet,” says Boschman.

However, almost immediately following that hospital visit, the Boschman’s were back after their other daughter Nina, also contracted E. coli poisoning.

“I watched Nina and by this time, I was experienced enough to do a little counting, so I counted how many times Nina went to the bathroom in the first 48 hours,” he told CBC News.

Report highlights extent of problem

Boschman’s daughters contracted E. coli poisoning in 1999 — the same year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on food borne illness that allowed North Americans to learn the scale of the food safety problem.  The study concluded that 76 million people got sick and 5,000 died each year in the U.S. from food pathogens, such as E. coli and salmonella.

Chris Bolton, who works for a Calgary lab that tests for food-borne pathogens in water, says Canada does not have a good reputation for accuracy when it comes to tracking E. coli.

“Canada has been chastised by the Center for Disease Control, and even by provincial health associations that they’re under, [for] reporting food-related illnesses. Unlike other industrialized nations, we’re very inept at tracking these cases,” said Bolton, the head of Benchmark Labs.

Experts also caution there are questions about how Canada reports food safety numbers.  The Canadian Medical Association suggests that only one in 200 cases of food-borne illness are actually reported.  The Canadian Food Inspection Agency itself says 11 million Canadians get sick every year from food-borne diseases.

High number of E. coli cases in Canada

Even though Canada’s E. coli numbers have dropped, a working paper written by Dennis Curtis at the University of Guelph shows that Canada has the highest reported rate of E. coli cases amongst nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Over the past decade, Canada reported 3.54 E. coli cases per 100,000 people — more than twice the rate of the United States. Canada’s high numbers are in part because of the Walkerton, Ont., E. coli outbreak in 2000.  But Sylvain Charlebois — one of the co-researchers on the Curtis working paper — cautions Canada’s numbers are high, despite the high-profile Ontario outbreak that killed seven people.

“If you take out Walkerton, you’re seeing a trend upwards of E. coli cases and it’s very difficult to explain right now why that is, so we need to further investigate,” says Charlebois.

Experts say one of Canada’s key problems is traceability — tracking food from farm to fork.  Canada regularly ranks near the bottom of the developed world in our ability to track food through the food chain.

Change to food safety system needed, says expert

Charlebois suggests a systemic change to Canada’s food safety system would help mitigate the problem.  Under the current regulatory system, Agriculture Canada oversees both the agriculture industry and food safety.  The minister of Agriculture is responsible for protecting both the agriculture industry and consumers.  Charlebois says there is an inherent conflict in that system.

“Sometimes these two mandates conflict with each other,” he told CBC News.

“Which is why some other Commonwealth countries, we have parliaments dissecting both roles, [create] an independent agency focusing solely on food safety issues.”

But Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says the new Safe Food for Canadians Act, which was adopted by the Senate in October, will give the CFIA more tools and resources to help keep Canadian food safe, like tougher penalties and better control over imports and exports.

Key tools include the enhanced ability for inspectors to demand food producers provide information in a timely and standardized manner and the authority to require traceability systems for food producers.  The government said these measures will help find products faster in recall situations so they can be removed from the shelves quicker and in a more comprehensive way.


Hantavirus death reported in Manitoba

CBC News

Posted: Oct 26, 2012 5:06 PM ET

Last Updated: Oct 27, 2012 1:38 PM ET

The hantavirus is found in mice droppings.
The hantavirus is found in mice droppings. (Centres for Disease Control )A middle-aged Winnipeg man has died after contracting an infection due to hantavirus, a disease associated with the urine and feces of deer mice.

The man’s death was reported by the province on Friday. It is the first recorded fatality since 2000.

Officials said he caught the virus after sweeping up mouse droppings at a cottage.

Manitoba’s medical officer of health confirmed the hantavirus link on Friday.

“This time of year a lot of people are getting the flu so it’s easy to miss [hantavirus],” Dr. Richard Rusk said. “But there was a history of having been exposed to mice droppings.”

Health officials are urging people to wear gloves and masks when working around or cleaning out areas where there may be mice.

The hantavirus infection, also known as hanta virus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), is a very rare viral disease which can be fatal.

Early symptoms of hantavirus infection include fever and muscle aches, possibly with chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cough, which progresses to respiratory illness, the province said in a release.

The symptoms develop within one to six weeks after exposure to deer mouse droppings.

With files from CBC’s Ryan Hicks

XL Foods workers question food safety at meat plant


Union says workers tell them management lacked concern for safe practices

CBC News

Posted: Oct 5, 2012 7:34 AM MT

The union representing XL Foods workers, as well as several former and current employees, say food safety was regularly jeopardized inside the Brooks, Alta.-based plant at the centre of an E. coli scare.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency shut down the Alberta plant last week, and its licence to operate the plant was temporarily suspended in the midst of a nationwide meat recall.

Tom Hesse with the United Food and Commercial Workers said the union has heard from employees about problems that could lead to tainted meat.

“Some [workers] are saying to us, ‘No, I wouldn’t eat the product that’s produced in my own workplace’,” said Hesse. “They tell us that management has a general lack of concern for food safety practices.”

The union held a special meeting with about a dozen XL Foods workers this week.

There were reports that workers didn’t sterilize their knives between cuts and if they did, they couldn’t keep up with the workflow, said Hesse.

Management, he said, turned a blind eye.

One man who worked for an industrial company that had a contract with XL Foods told CBC News that he saw an employee go into the washroom wearing his protective gear during one of his trips to the plant.

“Throwing it on the washroom floor in front of all the urinals and relieving himself and then picking up his garments off the floor. Picking up his scabbord with his knives off the floor and then returning to the production facility,” said the man, whose identity the CBC agreed to conceal.

XL Foods Inc. said in a press release Thursday it was taking “full responsibility” and is working to “implement changes to our food safety system to exceed existing high standards and regain the trust of Canadian consumers,” including enhanced testing.

Cleaning equipment reportedly clogged

CBC News has also spoken with several current and former XL Foods employees who said they also saw safety concerns prior to the meat recall.

Former employee Kyle Sailikin, who now operates a butcher shop in rural Saskatchewan, said cleaning equipment would frequently get clogged at the plant, but the company had other concerns.

“Processing came first, all times,” he said. “That was No. 1, was processing. It wasn’t cleaning, it wasn’t safety, it wasn’t the people working there. It was processing.”

Other employees described unhygienic behaviour, including workers on the line not washing hands and wearing contaminated clothing into areas which should have been kept clean.

Hesse said he was told at the union meeting that there are also claims that bosses are reluctant to stop the line when problems are found.

“[Workers] told us that shortly before the CFIA shut the plant down there was a sewage back up on both the slaughter and process floor,” said Hesse. “That’s obviously a serious issue in terms of food safety.

“They’re saying that XL is more concerned with the numbers they can produce rather than the safety of the workers or the safety of the product.”

Since the recall began, XL Foods has not agreed to any interviews.

The company’s Thursday press release also outlined changes to its food safety system that include more surveillance, more staff and better training.

Meanwhile, dozens of people have joined a class-action lawsuit against XL Foods, according to a lawyer acting for a man who became sick from E. coli after eating a steak that came via the company’s Brooks plant.


B.C. getting ready to take over some slaughterhouse inspections


Province to be responsible for inspecting meat slaughtered and sold in B.C.

CBC News

Posted: Oct 4, 2012 11:44 AM PT

B.C. is set to take over responsibility for inspecting meat slaughtered and sold within the province.B.C. is set to take over responsibility for inspecting meat slaughtered and sold within the province. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)
As the list of B.C. supermarkets and products affected by the XL Foods beef recall continues to grow, the provincial government is getting ready to take over responsibility for inspecting meat slaughtered and sold in the province.

That responsibility currently belongs to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency but is being handed back to B.C., as well as Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The transition is expected to be complete by January.

While the CFIA has provided meat inspection services to those provinces for a number of years, in other parts of the country, the services are provided by provincial governments.

The CFIA will continue to be responsible for inspecting meat that is exported or sold between provinces.

B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture, Norm Letnick, says ministry officials are currently working to identify gaps in the current inspection and testing system and find “opportunities for improvement.”

Letnick says he’s confident his ministry will have adequate funding to carry out its new mandate.

“Of course I’ve been very insistent through this process that if the responsibility is coming over, so should the dollars,” he says. “What I’m always asking for and what I will continue asking, is that we are properly resourced.”

Citing Health Canada guidelines, Letnick says the province is unlikely to institute routine testing for E. Coli once B.C. takes over meat inspections.

“The routine testing for E. coli at slaughterhouses is not considered effective as a food safety intervention,” he says. “However, we will be reviewing the potential applicability of testing in our new meat inspection system.”