The number of Canadian confirmed cases of E. coli from the XL beef plant at Brooks, Alta. had reached 11 by press time Monday. Meanwhile, the beef recall had spread from North America to Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety had advised local companies to stop selling and to recall “a small portion” of beef from XL Foods which had made its way to local shops.
The Canadian cases include two in Quebec and one in Newfoundland and Labrador. All those affected are recovering, health and food inspection officials said on a conference call with reporters.
The ever-widening recall of meat from the plant now involves more than 1,800 products, including steaks, ground beef and roasts and now spans all of Canada and most U.S. states.
The officials said they cannot prove that the sick people ate food from XL. But Dr. Frank Plummer, chief science officer of Canada’s Public Health Agency, said it was almost certain that all 10 cases trace back to the XL Foods meat recall.
The bacteria strain in this case has a unique “genetic fingerprint” never before seen in Canada or the United States, he said.
The XL plant slaughters about 4,500 cattle per day and next to the Cargill plant at nearby High River, Alta. is one of the two largest in Canada. It has been closed since Aug. 24. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was to begin an assessment of the plant on Tuesday of this week. “This assessment will determine if the facility has addressed deficiencies uncovered as part of the CFIA’s in-depth E. coli investigation,” the agency said Monday.
Inspectors found that while XL Foods had an appropriate plan to control food safety risks, it didn’t fully carry it out.
In its first public statement since the closure, the company said last Friday it deeply regretted the sickness caused by consumption of beef products. It promised to “exceed existing high standards and regain the trust of Canadian consumers.”
The recall comes four years after a recall of deli meat produced at Maple Leaf Foods that killed 22 people. It has led to calls from opposition legislators for the Canadian agriculture minister, Gerry Ritz, to resign.
Ritz has said the government did all it could to protect Canadians.