After the same strain of E. coli found at a huge Albertan beef supplier has appeared on Vancouver Island, some Comox Valley residents are looking at where their beef comes from more closely.
The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) announced Monday a Vancouver Island man tested positive for E. coli O157:H7, the same strain of E. coli seen in the XL Food Inc. food safety investigation.
According to the BCCDC, the man (subsequently identified as a Nanaimo resident) has recovered, and the investigation into the source is continuing.
This announcement came after a giant recall of beef from the company, which supplies about one-third of the beef in B.C., according to the BCCDC’s Dr. Eleni Galanis.
Closer to home, Gunter Bros Meat Co. Ltd. in Courtenay has been fielding questions from customers concerned about how their beef becomes that steak on their plate.
“We have quite a few people who want to know where the beef comes from, which is good,” says partner Dennis Gunter. “We source the local farms around the area, so the Comox Valley, you know, up and down the Island.
“We have quite a few customers that sell their own beef as well, and they sell into some of the retail stores. I’ve got quite an extensive list of names there actually where people can buy their beef.
“I think the best thing that they (concerned beef buyers) could do is, you know, maybe to talk to their butcher shops and stores and ask for local beef.”
Gunter Bros has a retail section, processes meats, and slaughters animals. It is provincially licensed as a Class A Slaughter Establishment by the BCCDC, and Gunter notes the Canadian Food Inspection Agency provides inspection service.
According to the BCCDC website, E. coli bacteria are found in the stomach and manure of cattle and sometimes sheep, goats and deer. It lists various ways for infection to spread to humans, but one is when animals are butchered, the gut is sometimes nicked by the knife, which can contaminate the carcass.
Gunter notes a focus on smaller-scale slaughter and processing operations means there’s less risk for contamination.
“Just the sheer volume and the speed at which the product’s put through on the slaughter floor (impacts the likelihood of contamination),” says Gunter. “Like I mean, right now we have one inspector and have today — there’s two people on the slaughter floor, so I mean the pace of production, he’s got all kinds of time to make sure the carcass is clean and trimmed up well, you know, that’s a huge key right there.”
Gunter also stresses the problem is not with the cattle industry itself, pointing out it’s one processing plant that’s got the problem and people shouldn’t stop buying beef at all because of the recall.
He adds that while he has had more customers asking him about the beef they’re buying, he hasn’t seen a decline in his sales lately.
“I think the sales are still strong; people still want to eat beef, they just want to make sure it’s safe to eat,” says Gunter. “There’s quite a bit of local meat around, not the kind of volume that could supply everybody, but you know, for the people that could afford to pay just a bit more.
“There’s a few farms on the Island that are gearing up to increase their production so I think in the next two to three years you’ll be able to see a lot more local beef available.”
For more information about the recall, visit www.bccdc.ca.