Massive meat recall hits local shelves

Major grocery stores in Cranbrook, Kimberley subjected to biggest beef recall in B.C. history

The Canada-wide recall of beef products hit Cranbrook store shelves on Friday, Sept. 28, and included all major grocery stores in the city.

A full list of the recalled products due to a possible E. coli contamination is available on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website, www.inspection.gc.ca. Locally the recall effects Giant Tiger, Overwaitea Foods, Real Canadian Superstore, Safeway, Save-On-Foods and Walmart. All of the product best-by dates are listed on the CFIA website.

There have been 10 confirmed cases of E. coli after the consumption of tainted meat in Alberta, and four are under investigation. None have been reported in B.C. The list of products was expanded to 1,500 items as of Tuesday afternoon.

Calls to Cranbrook’s Superstore, Safeway and Save-On-Foods locations were referred to each company’s head offices.

John Graham, director of public affairs for Safeway Canada Ltd., said the products were swiftly removed from the shelves, and all remaining products are from distributors not involved with the current CFIA investigation.

“We’ve got a pretty sophisticated system in place to ensure recalled products are removed from our shelves,” he said. “Everything that’s presently on our shelves is safe.”

Julija Hunter of Loblaw Companies Ltd, parent company of the Real Canadian Superstore, said they initiated their rapid response protocol when they first received word of the recalls.

“Our stores have removed from sale all potentially implicated products from XL Foods Canada … with production dates of August 24, 27, 28, 29 and September 5,” Hunter said. “At this point, there has been a very small impact in stores and we anticipate that there will be minimal or no impact on our ability to provide our customers with beef products.”

Safeway and Loblaws are encouraging customers to check out the CFIA website for a complete listing of the products being recalled. Both companies welcome customers to speak with a manager at their locations across Canada to return products should they be listed in the recall.

“If customers have concerns with the products purchased in our store, they can return any used or unused product to the store where it was purchased where we will gladly provide a refund,” Hunter said.

Overwaitea Food Group, the parent company for both Overwaitea and Save-On-Foods, sent an email to its customers on Sept. 28 advising them of the recall.

“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 CFIA’s expanded recall,” the letter reads, later offering a refund to customers for any of the products listed in the recall.

Graham said he has not seen a recall this large in recent memory.

“It’s an enormous recall,” he said.

XL Foods is one of the largest beef processing plants in Canada and is based out of Brooks, Alta. Its license was suspended by the CFIA on Sept. 27.

Contaminated meat was originally discovered in a shipment at the U.S. border in Sweetgrass, Mont., on Aug. 30. That beef tested positive for E. coli three days later and the American inspectors for the Food Safety and Inspection Service reported it to their Canadian counterparts. Beef at a processing facility being inspected by CFIA in Calgary tested positive on Sept. 4.

MP for Kootenay-Columbia David Wilks told the Townsman the CFIA stepped to action that day.

“Canadian food agency officials started containing contaminated products on September 4, 2012,” he said via email from Ottawa. “As soon as Canadian food agencies learned of the contaminated products they put in measures to ensure that Canadians were protected from risk.”

The agency attended XL Foods for a review of procedures on Sept. 12, as American authorities reported two more shipments of contaminated meat reaching their border the same day. Beef imports from XL Foods were banned in the U.S. as of that day.

Wilks said the investigation is ongoing.

“The Canadian Food Agency are ensuring that Canadians are well informed by all forms of media,” he said. “They have expanded their recall which includes stores in Kootenay-Columbia, this is done to ensure safe food is on our food counters.”

Graham said Safeway is currently looking at ways to keep beef on the shelves as the recall continues, and there is no timeline for when XL Foods will be back in operation.

“Our department is fully stocked,” he said. “We are looking at options to supplement our stock.”

The recall initially began with ground beef products and was expanded on Sept. 28 to include whole muscle cuts like steaks and roasts. It was again expanded on Tuesday afternoon as two more cases of E. coli infection were confirmed. The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health is investigating whether 13 E. coli infections in September were due to the XL Foods contamination.

The issue dominated Question Period in the House of Commons on Monday and Tuesday. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz came under fire from NDP and Liberal opposition members for not announcing the recall for two weeks. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair criticized the government for cuts to the CFIA across the country.

Wilks said over 700 food inspectors have been hired since 2006, including 170 meat inspectors.

“By doing this, Canadians have one of the best food inspection agencies in the world,” he said.