ARCHIVED - E. coli O157:H7 Food Safety Investigation Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd.

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The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is committed to the continued improvement of Canada's food safety system. The CFIA is also dedicated to reporting on food safety incidents that have caused serious illnesses in Canada or have otherwise significant interest to the Canadian public.

This report provides a summary of the CFIA food safety investigation and recall activities that followed the notification of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses associated with the consumption of frozen burgers produced at Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd, Est. 752. There were five reported illnesses associated with the consumption of the affected products.

Background

On December 5, 2012, the CFIA was notified by the Public Health Agency of Canada of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses potentially linked to frozen burgers produced at Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd, Est. 752, Brampton, Ontario.

On the same day, the CFIA initiated a food safety investigation to determine the extent of the problem and take necessary measures to protect the public. This included extensive sampling and testing activities to identify possible products at risk as consumers who became ill no longer had product labels or production codes from the suspect frozen burgers found in their home. This resulted in a series of recalls to remove product from the marketplace.

In the course of this investigation, the CFIA activated its National Emergency Operations Centre given the potential complexity and scope of this recall. The activation served to enhance coordination of response activities and information sharing with public health partners and other government departments.

At the time the CFIA investigation was concluded, on December 24, 2012, a total of 5 illnesses had been reported to be linked to Butcher's Choice Beef Burgers produced at Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd, Est. 752.

CFIA Activities

Investigation of Cardinal Meats Specialists Ltd.

CFIA visited Establishment 752 to conduct an investigation and collect production, testing and inspection data.

Sampling, testing and recall activities

On December 5th, the CFIA launched extensive sampling activities across the country. Approximately 300 retail locations were visited to find and obtain samples of President's Choice Butcher's Choice brand products made by Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. The CFIA tested 466 retail boxes of product, representing 31 production dates. Laboratory results identified a total of 9 positive samples for E. coli O157:H7, from four production dates (July 10, July 31, August 9 and August 30).

As soon as positive results for E. coli O157:H7 in specific beef burger products were obtained from CFIA laboratories, Health Canada conducted Health Risk Assessments of the affected products and determined that the products posed a Health Risk 1 (high risk) to consumers. Recall actions were taken immediately.

Loblaw Companies Ltd. recalled its Hickory Barbecue and Garlic Peppercorn Butcher's Choice Beef Burgers on December 12, 13 and 14. The CFIA issued a Health Hazard Alert on each day to warn consumers not to consume the affected products.

A specific code of Cardinal Select brand Prime Rib Beef Burgers was also identified as posing a risk and was recalled by Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd. as a precautionary measure on December 15, 2012. The specified product was produced during one of the affected production dates under conditions that could have led to its contamination. The CFIA also issued a Health Hazard Alert to warn consumers not to consume this product.

Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis analysis (fingerprinting) was conducted on all positive samples of E. coli O157:H7 to determine a potential linkage with the outbreak under investigation. Samples of August 30, 2012 production matched the outbreak while the other positive samples did not. This information allowed the CFIA to focus its trace-back efforts to ingredients used on that production date.

Source of contamination

The CFIA food safety investigation also set out to identify the potential source of E. coli O157:H7 contamination and followed three lines of inquiry relating to the ingredients: spices, domestic beef ingredients and imported beef ingredients.

CFIA investigators assessed production, inspection and testing records as well as food safety controls at the establishments that supplied ingredients. Investigators also conducted additional sampling and testing of ingredients.

CFIA verified import inspection and sampling data for the ingredients from the three implicated countries (Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay). In addition, CFIA contacted foreign regulatory authorities and verified that the establishments that supplied beef ingredients did not have food safety violations or deviations from established protocols. The Public Health Agency of Canada verified that E. coli fingerprint patterns reported by Australia and New Zealand authorities had no linkage with the Canadian outbreak under investigation.

Findings

Despite extensive investigative efforts, the CFIA concluded that there was no evidence available to identify the source of the E. coli O157:H7 contamination.

No food safety deficiencies were identified at Cardinal Meat Specialists Ltd, Est. 752. The trace back investigation focussed on the spices and the domestic and imported beef ingredients used in implicated products. The testing of spices and domestic beef ingredients for E. coli O157:H7 yielded negative results and the investigation into imported beef ingredients did not provide any evidence of a possible source of contamination.

The food safety investigation exhausted all lines of enquiry to identify the potential source of contamination and therefore the invetigation was closed on December 24, 2012.

Related Public Advisories

Additional Information

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