A cow sits in a pasture at the Bell L ranch near Airdrie, Alberta, Sept. 30, 2012.
Credits: JIM WELLS/CALGARY SUN/QMI AGENCY
CALGARY -- The number of meat products recalled and Albertans who have fallen sick due to an outbreak of E. coli continues to grow.
Federal inspectors issued the fourth meat recall in as many days -- a measure that now covers 1,100 products.
And Alberta Health Services on Tuesday announced one more case of E. coli, this one in Edmonton, while linking a fifth patient to the outbreak it says originated from the XL Foods Lakeside plant at Brooks that has been shut down since last Thursday.
Ten Albertans, including three Calgarians, have now come down with the illness since the recalls of beef began in mid-September.
Union members say they warned more than a year ago about corner-cutting working conditions that might now have contributed to an E. Coli outbreak at the plant.
Higher speeds in processing carcasses has led to shorter times to ensure equipment and meat is clean, said Tom Hesse, negotiator with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401.
"We identified line speeds as an issue one-and-a-half years ago in our collective bargaining," said Hesse.
"Worker safety and food safety are compromised when the line speed is too high, but the employer would have none of it."
Too much of the process, he said, has been left up to the company, or not enough safety precautions expected from it.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) officials say fecal matter attached to at least one head of cattle at the XL Foods plant slipped through the detection process and passed onto store shelves.
Hesse said the union was also rebuffed in its bid to have whistleblower protection in its contract -- a provision he argues could have revealed safety concerns.
"Most of the workers there are immigrants and their ability to stay in Canada is dependent on their employment, which they feel would be threatened if they came forward," he said.
The CFIA has done a good job in a case where everything that could have gone wrong, did, said spokesman Dr. Richard Arsenault, who says testing has to be more stringent.
"Testing is a tool to eliminate product and when you don't do that extra step in doing that analysis, some product goes into the market," he said on a radio show, adding the plant could re-open this week.
"We're going to be more vigilant because of what has happened."
The CFIA first became aware of the potential problem on Sept. 4, but said it didn't announce a first recall until Sept. 16 because it wasn't certain of the outbreak's scope.
Meanwhile, Calgary class action lawyer Clint Docken said he's launched a suit involving an Edmonton man -- a move he expects will attract numerous other plaintiffs.
"We think it's as big as Maple Leaf and there are a lot of sick people out there who don't know what it is," said Docken, referring to the Listeriosis outbreak of 2008 that killed 20 people.