‘The more you test, the more you find’: Beef recalls a sign of success, experts say

Despite appearances, experts say a recent rise in major recalls is not a sign of food supply problems

A wide-ranging recall of hundreds of beef and veal products from restaurants, grocery stores and hotels due to possible E. coli contamination is the latest in a slew of high-profile food recalls in Canada.

Despite appearances, experts say a recent rise in major recalls is not a sign of food supply problems, but the result of a more active investigative body and better testing tools — though they add more can be done.

“This is proof that the system is working well,” said Lawrence Goodridge, a professor focusing on food safety at The University of Guelph, speaking about the recent meat recall.

Yet, he believes that “in Canada, we have to get to a place where we can actually stop the food from going to retail in the first place.”

READ MORE: Food watchdog expands warning of possible E. coli in beef products to Alberta, B.C.

Since Sept. 20, a investigation by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency into possible E. coli 0157:H7 contamination in some beef and veal products sold by Ryding-Regency Meat Packers Ltd. and St. Ann’s Foods Inc. has led to the recall of nearly 700 products.

The CFIA suspended the Canadian food safety license for St. Ann’s meat-processing plant, as well as Ryding-Regency’s slaughter and processing plant, both in Toronto, in late September.

No illnesses have been reported in association with the products, according to the CFIA, but symptoms of sickness can include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and bloody diarrhoea. Severe cases can be fatal.

This comes on the heels of several other large-scale recalls, including multiple romaine lettuce recalls due to E. coli concerns.

Part of the increase comes from new food safety rules, said Goodridge, pointing to the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations, which came into effect Jan. 15 this year. More requirements will be introduced throughout 2020 and 2021.

The new regulations outline “key food safety control principles that must be met by all food businesses,” according to the CFIA, as well as how to keep a “preventative control plan that documents how food businesses meet food safety, humane treatment and consumer protection requirements,” such as labelling and packaging.

It also requires food must be able to be traced along the supply chain from the consumer to the supplier and vice versa.

“I think what we’re seeing is the (CFIA) really taking advantage of that new legislation, and really increasing their ability to really investigate the food producing companies,” said Goodridge. He noted that St. Ann’s and Ryding-Regency both had their licenses suspended for failing to implement parts of the new legislation, as did Calgary-based Fairview Bakery in late Sept.

He believes Canadians will continue to see more recalls as a result of the new rules, though he stresses Canadians shouldn’t be concerned.

Additionally, the development of rapid-screening methods has boosted test times, said Keith Warriner, a professor in The University of Guelph’s Food Science program.

“(It’s) a bit like introducing fingerprinting into crime investigation,” he said. “It’s made that kind of revolution.”

Retailers are also putting pressure on suppliers to test products, Warriner said. Once a recall occurs, they tend to produce a snowball effect by panicking and demanding products they sell be tested.

“The more you test, the more you find, the more recalls you have.”

These factors have created an imbalance where the means of detection are much greater than the means of control, said Warriner, adding industry can bring in more preventative measures to address the problem at the source rather than trying to catch it later.

Some farmers in other countries have taken to vaccinating cattle on the feedlot against E. coli, for example, he said, which has shown to be effective throughout Europe.

There’s some debate in the industry over how effective these types of vaccines can be, said Goodridge, who “absolutely” believes the development of pre-harvest prevention methods is key.

Some, including Goodridge, are working to figure out how to use bacterial phages — natural bacteria eaters found in the environment — to help decrease the risk of bacteria on animals for slaughter. Researchers are attempting to come up with a bacterial phage spray that could be administered to the cattle’s hide shortly before slaughter.

However, problems persist as cows tend to be caked with manure, making it difficult for the spray to reach the hide’s surface. And both professors say these solutions come with an added expenses for farmers or processors, who may be reluctant to invest and eat into their margins.

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Mowi’s B.C. salmon farms achieve environmental certification from independent watchdog

Aquaculture Steward Council certification complies with 500 sustainability and social measures

Island Health provides Baby Beds for infants north of the Malahat

A safe place for baby to sleep is key to reduce sleep-related deaths

Author chronicles churches built by pioneers in the Salish Sea

B.C. author Liz Bryan preserving a little bit of pioneer history in her latest book

North Island College president to retire next year

North Island College’s president and CEO has officially announced his plans to… Continue reading

UPDATE: Canadian Ferry Association cautions against politicizing BC Ferry operations

Reasonable safety, not politicized safety way to go, Canadian Ferry Association says

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Hefty undeclared driver charges piling up, ICBC warns customers

Average extra penalty $2,971 after an at-fault accident

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

RCMP disarm man experiencing mental health crisis

The male pulled a knife on officers and then held it to his own throat expressing a desire to die

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

Conservation officers relocate Spirit bear known to roam northwestern B.C.

Bear roamed valley north of Terrace for many years

B.C. premier applauds call to decriminalize drug possession

Police shouldn’t struggle with health issues, Horgan says

Time to protect B.C.’s unique glass sponge reefs, conservation group says

Climate change is a “serious and immediate threat” to the 9,000-year old sponges: study

Time to protect B.C.’s unique glass sponge reefs, conservation group says

Climate change is a “serious and immediate threat” to the 9,000-year old sponges: study

Most Read