Federal officials have widened a national recall of frozen beef burgers after at least seven people in Ontario fell ill from E. coli poisoning as experts continue to investigate the source of the contamination.
The recalled hamburgers – which were packaged under the brand names Compliments, President's Choice and Webers – were sold at Sobeys, Sobeys Urban, Foodland, Freshco, Price Chopper, Loblaws and other supermarkets across the country.
"It's an ongoing investigation. We're still working on trying to determine the root source," said Fred Jamieson, a food safety recall specialist at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
At least seven people throughout Ontario contracted E. coli O157:H7 between Aug. 16 and Sept. 15, and four were hospitalized. All have since recovered.
Investigators believe all the victims ate undercooked Compliments brand Super 8 Beef Burgers, which were sold at Sobeys. The patties were manufactured by Belmont Meats Ltd., a processing facility based in Toronto.
"If there was a problem with it, we wanted to make sure that it was off the market because people did become ill," said Duffy Smith, CEO of Belmont Meats.
On Oct. 2, the CFIA announced the company was voluntarily recalling Compliments Super 8 burgers sold in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. Inspectors conducting tests on products processed by Belmont Meats later confirmed the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in four samples.
On Tuesday, the recall was expanded to cover Compliments Super 6 Beef Burgers, President's Choice Beef Burgers and Webers Bucket of Burgers – which were sold nationally – after officials determined they were made on the same day or on the same equipment as the affected burgers.
Mr. Smith said the victims no longer had the packaging from the burgers, making it difficult to track exactly which products were contaminated.
"As a precaution, we pulled everything that we'd made for the year off the market," he said.
In all, he said Belmont Meats recalled about 4,500 cases of burgers from supermarket shelves. In addition, consumers are being asked to check their freezers for any of the affected products and to return them to the retailer.
Mr. Smith said Belmont Meats buys boneless beef from federally inspected abattoirs that slaughter cattle from Canada, the United States and other countries. The company supplies meat to Canadian grocery stores as well as fast-food restaurants, including Burger King and Dairy Queen, and casual restaurants, such as Applebee's.
Mr. Smith sought to allay any concerns that people may have eaten tainted beef at a restaurant, noting that such establishments take pains to ensure that hamburgers are thoroughly cooked.
"Typically, the formula for those products is very, very different and those customers cook all their product," he said.
Food contaminated with E. coli may not seem spoiled, but it can cause serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses. People often experience severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. Most symptoms clear up in a few days, but the bacteria can also cause kidney failure, seizures, stroke or even death.