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Marler Blog Providing Commentary on Food Poisoning Outbreaks & Litigation

5 E. coli illnesses linked to now recalled hamburger

The same strain of E. coli O157:H that was isolated from five patients in Alberta and Ontario was also found in Butcher’s Choice brand Garlic Peppercorn beef burgers, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

As I said to the Calgary Herald, this public health agency likely could have moved faster to recall product.

Faced with multiple cases where patients had gotten sick from an identical strain of E. coli bacteria after claiming to have eaten the same brand of beef patties, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency should have immediately removed all the potentially-contaminated product from store shelves, Bill Marler said Sunday.

“I’m sorry for the business that might have recall costs and might lose some customers,” said Marler, “but when you’ve got sick people and genetic matches, the public has a right to be protected.”

The Herald has learned CFIA officials were first alerted to a potential problem with hamburgers from a Brampton, Ont. plant in early October after an Edmonton patient became ill from E. coli 0157:H7 poisoning.  But nearly two months passed and four more cases emerged before the federal agency began an investigation in early December.

Marler said he’s worried there many now be a repeat of the ever-expanding alerts consumers endured earlier this fall after tainted beef from the XL Foods Inc. facility in Brooks was discovered.

“By not doing the wise public health thing and recalling all the potentially-affected product at once, it undercuts CFIA’s credibility and it gets confusing to the public,” he said.

A Washington-based attorney who has represented victims of food-borne illness outbreaks for more than two decades and secured in excess of $600 million in settlements, Marler said frozen burgers are the most dangerous product in the market.

“At least in the United States, they have been the ones linked to the most outbreaks, and frozen patties are notoriously difficult for consumers to cook adequately,” he said.

Marler said tracing the source of the contamination in frozen burgers is also difficult, because processors typically use numerous sources of raw material to achieve the right fat content at the lowest cost.