“Canadians, this week, are a little nervous around beef. For good reason.
“Verotoxigenic” E. coli (VTEC), which are often a strain known as E. coli O157: H7, are yet again causing an outbreak, with numerous Canadians sickened by tainted beef. Now what’s being called the country’s largest food recall is unfolding. We’re being told not to eat the steaks, hamburger and other beef products handled by Alberta’s XL Foods that have been sold in supermarkets across the country. Meanwhile, the federal government is under attack for not having protected our food from this bug, which generally causes bloody diarrhea and an associated blood and kidney disorder.
It will likely be many weeks before epidemiologists have a clearer picture of what’s happening. However, this is by no means a unique event.
In 2006, VTEC-tainted spinach from California caused an outbreak reaching into Canada. This past summer, at least 11 individuals in New Brunswick were sickened by VTEC-tainted lettuce: the outbreak strain matched a strain causing disease in both Quebec and California, suggesting a much larger North American VTEC outbreak remained unidentified. In 2009, VTEC-contaminated cookie dough caused a massive outbreak in the United States, sickening more than 80 people across 30 states.