Good Advice from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency
SAFETY ZONE by Dr. James Marsden
James Marsden is Kansas State University Regent’s Distinguished Prof. of Food Safety.
Last week the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued a statement about its investigation of a cluster of illnesses and the resulting recall that demonstrates remarkable restraint and reason. It also contains very good advice for consumers.
The investigation followed a small cluster of E. coli cases linked to raw ground beef produced by Cardinal Meats Specialist Ltd. Canadian food safety officials matched the genetic fingerprint from the illnesses to the recalled product on one production day. A limited recall followed that included production from four production days.
Cardinal Meats, like most manufacturers of ground beef requires that suppliers test raw materials for E. coli O157:H7 and conducts its own verification testing. Canadian government officials evaluated the company’s food safety procedures, production and testing records and also conducted additional testing on spices and other burger ingredients. They determined that all beef products and non-meat ingredients tested negative for E. coli O157:H7. After exhausting all possible sources of E. coli contamination, CFIA announced that the investigation has been concluded.
This outbreak and recall is much like the many others that have occurred over the past several years in the United States. The truth is that ground beef manufacturers are pretty much dependent on their raw material suppliers when it comes to controlling E. coli O157:H7. It also shows that even a robust raw material sampling and testing program doesn’t assure that E. coli contamination is always prevented.
What makes this case remarkable is the fact that the CFIA recognized that the company implicated in the recall made every effort to produce the safest possible product. In their press release they stated that “Canada has rigorous requirements for meat production to reduce the risk of E. coli, but even the best food safety systems cannot eliminate all potential opportunities for contamination all the time”. This is the first time I’ve ever heard a regulatory agency acknowledge this fundamental truth.
Their statement then goes on to say: “This is why it is critical that consumers take a few simple steps to keep their food safe. Cooking ground beef to at least 71°C fully destroys E. coli bacteria. As well, consumers can prevent contamination of other foods by ensuring that cooking surfaces and utensils are well cleaned with soap and water after coming into contact with raw beef.”
Again, the statement is impressive in its honesty and sound advice for consumers.
Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I am committed to finding a real solution to the problem of E. coli O157:H7 and non-O157 STECs in beef. Cooking alone isn’t the answer.
There is still much more that needs to be done by the beef industry to achieve this goal. However, it’s refreshing to see a regulatory agency refrain from blaming a company for a problem that was not of their making and for having the courage to tell consumers the truth about E. coli contamination and how they can they can help reduce the risk of illness.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency deserves a lot of credit for their honesty and the professional manner in which they managed the recall and investigation.
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