Saskatchewan is reporting a spike in E. coli cases but is waiting for lab tests before linking them to the massive beef recall from an Alberta plant.
The Ministry of Health announced Tuesday that there were 13 reported cases of E. coli infection in the province last month. The usual number for September is between zero and four.
“Public health authorities are investigating these cases and conducting tests to determine whether they are linked to the recall,” reads a government release. “Laboratory results are expected within the next few days.”
The Regina Qu’appelle Health Region confirmed that Flip Eatery and Drink in the city’s downtown closed voluntarily Tuesday after five customers were diagnosed with E. coli.
The health region said its investigation has shown some of those customers did not eat beef.
Health officials in Alberta on Tuesday confirmed two new cases of E. coli, bringing the province’s total to 10.
Five of the Alberta cases, including one of the new ones, have been linked to steaks that were processed at the XL Foods Inc. plant in southern Alberta and purchased at a Costco store in Edmonton.
Health officials were reminding consumers to cook beef thoroughly and to wash their hands when preparing food.
The warning comes after yet another recall of beef products from the plant in Brooks.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said in a health hazard alert released late Monday night that dozens of additional products, including roasts and sausages, have been added to a long list of recalled beef.
The agency announced the expanded recall as it continues to investigate XL Foods, which had its licence temporarily suspended last week.
The CFIA is warning the public, distributors and food service establishments not to consume, sell, or serve any of the beef products on the list because they may be contaminated with E. coli.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper endured more question-period beef broadsides Tuesday from both the NDP and the Liberals.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair accused Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz of blaming bureaucrats, while interim Liberal leader Bob Rae demanded to know why it took the government so long to warn Canadian consumers.
“On this particular case, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency acted to contain contaminated product, beginning on September 4 and has been acting ever since then,” Harper said in the House.
“The plant will remain shut down until the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is convinced that it is safe to operate.”
Ritz’s office issued a news release late Tuesday saying he would be at the CFIA’s Calgary lab on Wednesday morning to issue a statement and speak with the media.
The Conservatives have added 700 “net new” food inspectors since first taking office in 2006, he added.
After question period, Rae said the government’s first responsibility was to alert the public to a potential health hazard.
“The real issue here is, when does the consumer have a right to know? When should the consumer be informed?”
The Americans stopped the beef shipment on Sept. 13 and closed the border.
“Shouldn’t the Canadian consumer know that?” asked Rae. “You talk about transparency, you talk about accountability. It’s the consumer that’s buying the meat.”
He acknowledged governments can’t be in the business of creating panic, “but if the consumer really is the first priority, why is the consumer the last to know?”
Rae said the answer should be coming from Harper and his agriculture minister, “not from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
“We wouldn’t know a soul of who those people are.”
The new additions to the recall are products sold in Ontario by The Kitchen Table, Zehrs, Your Independent Grocer and Valu-Mart, in Quebec by Entrepot de Viandes stores, by Brooks Meat Packers in Alberta, and Co-op, ValuFoods and Village Mart in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec.
Also added to the list are products from Real Canadian Superstore and Extra Foods stores across most provinces, along with many Dominion stores, Loblaws in Quebec, Real Atlantic Superstore in the Maritimes and Save Easy stores in the Atlantic provinces.
The entire list can be found on the website of the food inspection agency (at www.inspection.gc.ca).
The agency says consumers who are unsure if they have the affected beef in their home should check with the store where the product was purchased or throw it out.
The recall, which has been expanded several times over the past two weeks, has raised awareness of food safety issues in Canada as well as fears over the growing size and scope of the recall.
E. coli O157:H7 is potentially deadly. Health officials say it can cause bloody diarrhea, dehydration and, in the most severe cases, kidney failure.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version located the plant in Edmonton and said there was only one new Alberta case.