Ont. E. coli probe shifts to burger plant’s suppliers

An investigation into an E. coli outbreak that’s sickened five people in two provinces, tracked back to a Toronto-area frozen burger plant, has now shifted its focus to that plant’s suppliers.

The Public Health Agency of Canada on Monday reported five cases of illness due to E. coli O157:H7, including three in Ontario and two in Alberta, from a specific strain of the bacteria now confirmed to be the same found in recalled Butcher’s Choice Garlic Peppercorn frozen beef burgers.

The burgers came from a Brampton, Ont. processing plant run by Cardinal Meat Specialists, which has since expanded its recall to cover Butcher’s Choice Garlic Peppercorn and Hickory Beef burgers of any best-before date. Most recently, the recall was expanded on Sunday to include Cardinal Select brand Prime Rib Beef burgers in 1.13-kg packages with a July 31, 2013 best-before date.

A team of six Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors has verified the Brampton plant "is following appropriate food safety controls," the agency said Saturday.

The CFIA, which has been investigating the outbreak since Dec. 6, added Saturday that its team has turned its focus over to "tracing the origin of the ingredients, including spices and beef, from the products that tested positive."

If the agency’s traceback comes up with a contaminated ingredient, "other facilities and products may be implicated (and) this could lead to further recalls," CFIA warned.

Testing of the Cardinal plant’s sources of spices and domestic Canadian beef is already underway, CFIA said Monday, and the agency also plans to follow up with Cardinal’s beef suppliers from Australia and New Zealand and review those plants’ testing data.

The strain seen in the five illnesses was connected to burgers from one production day at Cardinal, CFIA said Monday.

Some recalled burgers from a second production day at the Brampton plant were also confirmed to have O157:H7 contamination, but no burgers from that second day have been linked to any recent or current illness outbreaks, the agency said.

All five people who became ill from the O157 strain in question "have recovered or are recovering," PHAC said Monday. The people range in age from 10 to 59 and became ill sometime between early September and late last month.

Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but the more toxic strains such as O157:H7 can cause severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting or, in some cases, more serious complications such as kidney failure.

While one of the five people was hospitalized, PHAC said none of the five developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which in more severe cases of O157 infection causes red blood cells to prematurely self-destruct, clogging the kidneys.

Related story:
Burger recall widens as E. coli illnesses investigated, Dec. 14, 2012

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