The biggest meat recall in Canadian history now extends coast to coast, covering every province and territory, and it involves beef products shipped to Prince George.
More than 1,500 meat products packed at the XL Foods Ltd. processing plant in Brooks, Alta., could potentially be contaminated with E. coli bacteria and are now on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's recall list.
The products were made at the XL plant on Aug. 24, 27, 28, 29 and Sept. 5 and have best-before dates that range from Aug. 24 to Oct. 26. The list is available on the Inspection Agency's website, inspection.gc.ca. Consumers are being asked to throw out any meat on the recall list or return it to the store where it was purchased.
Sixty-six retail grocery chains across the country have been issued recall notices, including Costco, Real Canadian Superstore, Save-On Foods and Wal-Mart, all of which have stores in Prince George. But it's not just large stores involved.
"We have indications that some product has been shipped to smaller butchers that have been recalled and that they're being notified of recalled product through the distributors who have sold to them," said Canadian Food Inspection Agency spokesman Tim O'Connor.
Ben Klassen, owner of Homesteader Meats in Prince George, said 85 to 90 per cent of his meat is bought locally, but the store does buy some meat from XL Foods, which informed him last week that four boxes of larger cuts of beef it sent to Homesteader were on the recall list.
"We had four boxes of sirloin butts and bottom rounds, and they called me right away and we hadn't used any of it, so we sent it right back," said Klassen.
'"We're very fortunate, we don't carry much of theirs at all. Today we've been really busy because people know a lot of our products come locally, so that's helped us that way [ with sales]. But the whole thing is just unfortunate."
Restaurants, schools, hospitals and other food-serving facilities are also being made aware of the recall.
Virtually all beef products, including steaks, roasts, ribs, ground beef and sausages, have been implicated. Julie Dickson Olmstead of Overwaitea Food Group, which owns the three Save-On Foods stores in Prince George, sent the Citizen a copy of a letter to customers issued Friday after it was determined the recall extended beyond ground beef products.
"Though we do not buy ground beef from XL Foods and have not for quite some time, our third-party beef supplier does procure certain beef products from XL Foods that are now affected by the CFIAs expanded recall," the letter explains.
"We are very proud of the facility we work with and the processes they have in place to provide us with a very high standard of food safety which includes extra steps that make the risk of this kind of contamination extremely low for us. However, as a precautionary measure, we are voluntarily initiating a recall of all potentially impacted products and well be replacing removed product with unaffected supply over the next few days."
Superstore Prince George manager Chris Hopwood referred The Citizen to the Loblaw Companies Ltd., head office in Port Credit, Ont., but did say the recalls have not affected his store. Dave Wilkes, grocery division senior vice-president of the Retail Council of Canada, has been asked to serve as Loblaw's spokesperson on the tainted meat issue, but Wilkes had no idea how much of that meat had been sent to Prince George-area stores.
"I don't have specific information on the amount of beef sent to any particular store across the country and I don't know if that information is available," said Wilkes.
"Our members have been focusing on the priority issue, which was getting the product off the shelf and ensuring that those food safety concerns were paramount. XL Foods is one of the largest beef processors in the country so there was a large volume of products both in the type of product and the amount that was affected. We're continuing to focus on implementing the recall as efficiently as possible and ensure that consumers continue to have confidence the food on the grocery shelf is safe."
Costco's recall was focused on the Kirkland Signature fresh beef and maple chipotle short ribs packed between Aug. 28 and Sept. 27. Steaks purchased at Costco in Edmonton 50th Street location were also singled out.
Inspectors first detected the E. coli outbreak Sept. 4 at XL's processing plant in Brooks, Alta. Since then, at least nine Albertans have gotten sick from eating the meat, including a nine-year-old girl who suffered kidney failure as a result.
Symptoms of E. coli infection include severe stomach cramps; diarrhea (sometimes bloody),vomiting and fever. The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates between five and 10 per cent of people of all ages get sick from E. coli. Symptoms are more severe in young and elderly patents. About 15 per cent of young children and the elderly develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can be fatal.
Meat contaminated with E. coli might not look or smell bad, but if there's any doubt, throw it out.