Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Powell says XL to blame

Dr. Doug Powell, the first person to gain a doctorate degree in food safety communications, is airing evidence that XL Foods Inc. and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency both erred in dealing with contamination of beef with E. coli 0157:H7.

And he points to a report about Salmonella Typherium and Salmonella Newport from a 500-acre farm in Illinois this summer as an example of how inspections and food-safety audits do little good if those who are in charge fail to take prompt action.

At Chamberlain Farms, tests showed the two strains of salmonella were showing up on canteloupes coming out of the fields and audits revealed a number of sanitation issues at the canteloupe-processing warehouse.

Three people died and 270 were sickened by the canteloupes that were marketed in 26 states.

At XL Foods Inc., the Calgary Herald found an audit done by Silliker Inc. in May pointed out that that sampling of trim product was “inconsistent” with the standard that 60 pieces be taken from each tested lot.

Those results from earlier were posted on XL’s website, but inspection agency officials have said they were unaware of its existence until “recently.”

Despite having more than 46 inspectors providing oversight at the facility, the first indications of the recent problems didn’t come to CFIA’s attention until Sept. 4., when it learned of positive test results by American authorities at the border, Powell notes in his daily reports on food safety incidents and issues.

That same day, its own inspectors had a positive E. coli test in a shipment sent from the Brooks facility to a small plant in Calgary.

“Those first positives ought to have been a sign to the agency of the potential for massive contamination,” Powell says he was informed by an anonymous expert.

“They should have demanded that XL show them all the test results for products from the same days immediately.”

Instead, the agency’s timeline indicates inspectors waited two days to formally request results and gave the company a further four days to comply.

As it was, XL didn’t supply all the data to CFIA until Sept. 11, the same day four people in Edmonton fell sick from eating contaminated steak that Alberta’s health authority now confirms came from the troubled plant, Powell says.

"CFIA is now spinning a tale about how one cow, a super-shedder of E. coli, triggered the whole outbreak mess. Except my micro(biologist) friends tell me the super-shedder theory was trashed a couple of years ago,” says Powell.

“So Gerry Ritz, who is still inexblicably Canada’s Minister of Agriculture, will visit a testing lab in Calgary Wed. morning. Maybe Ritz should go visit Matthew Harrison and his family,” Powell says, referring to a Calgary man hospitalized after eating beef from XL Foods.

As of today, XL has recalled more than 1,500 products and more than 1.5 million pounds of beef that it marketed from coast to coast in Canada and to 41 states in the United States, plus Puerto Rico.

More cases of E. coli food poisoning are turning up daily in hospitals in Western Canada, a restaurant in Regina has shut down after patrons fell ill and Ritz told the House of Commons yesterday that none of the XL beef was sold to the public.

Farmers and ranchers who were supplying about 4,000 head a day to the XL plant at Brooks, Alta., are having to find other buyers, Cargill is ramping up production at its plants at High River, Alta., and Guelph, Ontario, and major supermarket chains are shopping for new suppliers to fill their counters that were emptied by the recalls.

So far nobody at the CFIA or XL has apologized.