Provincially licensed slaughterhouses in B.C. should consider adding tests for pathogens such as E. coli or listeria to their inspection regimes, says a food safety specialist at the University of British Columbia.
“This is a significant issue,” Kevin Allen, an assistant professor of food microbiology at UBC, said in an interview Tuesday.
“We now have 10 or more cases of food-borne disease linked to [an outbreak at Alberta’s XL Foods,]” he said. The outbreak has made several people ill and resulted in a massive recall of beef products.
“And E. coli 0157 is a very serious food-borne pathogen. The disease that can result from it is more consequential than [results from] most of the common food-borne pathogens that we associate with food poisoning, if you will.”
Slaughterhouses in B.C. include federally licensed plants as well as several classes of facilities licensed by the province.
B.C. does not currently test for pathogens such as E. coli or listeria at provincially regulated plants unless there is a suspicion of contamination. E. coli testing is part of routine testing at federal plants.
The biggest risk of contamination from pathogens such as E. coli comes during processing, not slaughtering, a spokeswoman for B.C.’s Health Ministry – which currently regulates slaughterhouses in the province – said Tuesday in an e-mail.
Health Canada does not recommend routine testing for E. coli as a public-health measure and research indicates that “routine pathogen testing of carcasses at the slaughter plant is not considered an effective food safety intervention,” according to the provincial spokeswoman.
That said, the province is “reviewing the potential applicability of testing in our new meat inspection system.”