Beef recall expands as Toronto slaughterhouse co-operates with food watchdog
Ryding-Regency Meat Packers Ltd. had its licence suspended Sept. 17 due to possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination.
A large recall of raw beef and veal products continued to expand this week with Canada’s food watchdog issuing safety warnings about dozens of items sold at restaurants and retail outlets including Walmart and the gourmet food chain Pusateri’s.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said its investigation continues into the Toronto-based slaughterhouse Ryding-Regency Meat Packers Ltd., which had its licence suspended Sept. 17 due to possible E. coli O157:H7 contamination.
At the time, the CFIA said the facility “failed to implement effective control measures.”
A spokesman for the processing facility described the safety concerns solely as “a deficiency in paperwork” and not a matter of improper food handling.
“As CFIA reviewed the paperwork they noticed some gaps in recording of daily procedures and so in an abundance of caution, the company is voluntarily recalling meat products that have been sent out,” Neil Brodie said Wednesday.
“It looks like some of the employees were not fully trained on what to do.”
By Tuesday, a series of CFIA recall warnings over the past several weeks grew to involve 665 meat products sold on grocery store shelves, as well as 625 items sent to hotels, restaurants, institutions, manufacturers and retailers—products that include variable sizes of steaks, roasts, burgers, bones and organ meats.
The latest recall included a Steakhouse Select brand of cracked pepper beef sirloin roast sold at Walmart in Ontario and Alberta; a Fast Fresh Fabulous brand of bacon-wrapped medallions sold at Overwaitea in British Columbia; and more than a dozen products sold at various Pusateri’s Fine Foods outlets in the Toronto area.
The agency said more recalls could follow.
Brodie said Ryding-Regency Meat Packers Ltd. ships its products to grocery stores who then break it down into smaller pieces for retail sale. The plant’s two facilities remained shuttered, affecting cattle farmers, plant workers and consumers, he said.
“There’s 300 employees in the Toronto area who are staying at home not working while this process works its way through,” said Brodie, vice president of the Ottawa-based public affairs firm Bluesky Strategy Group.
“Cattle producers are looking to sell their product and meat retailers are looking for product to sell. There’s the gap in the ability to process meat in the Canadian market.”
The CFIA said there have been no reported illnesses.
Food contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 may not look or smell spoiled but can still cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhea. The CFIA advises consumers to throw out recalled products or return them to the location where they were purchased.
Considering the size of the recall, food safety expert Jennifer Ronholm said it’s amazing no one has fallen ill.
“Most of them seem to be things that you cook so that’s probably a saving grace here,” said Ronholm, noting that most E. coli contamination is on the surface and would be killed off by searing.
Still, she said the infectious dose for E. coli O157:H7 is extremely low and there would be no way to guarantee the infected product doesn’t transfer organisms to other kitchen surfaces or foods.
“I wouldn’t want E. coli O157:H7 contaminated product in my freezer, fridge, kitchen or oven and I would not recommend that anyone knowingly handle, store, eat, or serve affected meat regardless of how it is cooked,” Ronholm, an assistant professor of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at McGill University, added in email.
Ronholm says the E. coli strain involved is the same one that forced the largest beef recall in Canada’s history when contaminated beef was linked to the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., in 2012, and the same that crippled the town of Walkerton, Ont., in 2000, when its contaminated water supply sickened more than 2,000 and resulted in six deaths.
Ronholm said addressing contamination fears is a complex and time consuming operation, but this case shows that “the system is working.”
“CFIA identified a problem in a plant and instituted a recall before anyone got sick. If you make it through this without anyone getting sick that’s a pat on the back for the Canadian system.”