One bite of bad beef could mean a positive drug test for a Canadian athlete competing at the Pan American Games.
Canada's team of 493 athletes has been given strict orders not to stray outside the athletes village to eat, in a country that has been plagued by positive doping tests blamed on the presence of the steroid clenbuterol in beef.
If there were bad-beef concerns before at the Games, they were cranked up several notches when FIFA revealed this week that a whopping 109 players — more than half — at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Mexico this past summer tested positive for the anabolic steroid.
Pan Am Games officials have guaranteed that the meat in the village is safe, said Dr. Andrew Marshall, the Canadian team's chief medical officer.
"And we've told the athletes, if they choose to eat outside the village, stick to a high quality restaurant. But we still can't guarantee the sources of the meat ... You and I could be having a hamburger, for example, and mine might be negative and your's might be positive."
Nineteen of the 24 teams at the under-17 World Cup had positive doping tests, with clenbuterol showing up in 109 of the 208 urine samples.
Canadian Soccer Association officials said they have not received word that Canada's team was affected.
Canada's athletes at the Pan Am Games say they're being extra cautious what they ingest.
"We were warned before we even got here, and then again when we arrived, before we ate anything," said field hockey captain Ken Pereira. "The mission staff assured us that all the food in the village is fine, so we're staying in the village to eat."
The field hockey team did hold a team dinner at a restaurant outside the village Tuesday.
"But no-one ate any beef or pork, it was all vegetables and fish," Pereira said.
Women's water polo coach Pat Oaten said he's confident his players, who will be battling for a London Olympic berth at the Games, will be mindful of their diet.
"We don't have any worries about the meat in the village, and no members of the team will be eating meat products outside of the village or eating outside of the village for that matter," Oaten said. "Not even an issue for us. If you're serious about competing and succeeding this is a non-issue."
Farmers inject cattle — illegally — with clenbuterol to reduce fat and increase lean meat. The banned steroid has virtually the same effect on humans, Marshall said.
WADA had already issued a warning to athletes travelling to the Pan Am Games to "exercise extreme caution" when eating after five Mexican players tested positive for clenbuterol before the Gold Cup. Mexico's under-17 team, which won the tournament, all tested clean because they were put on a fish and vegetables diet before the competition.
If nothing else, the whopping number of positive tests erases any doubt about how the steroid was ingested, Marshall said. The World Anti-Doping Agency has dropped its case against the five senior players, and said the under-17 players won't be penalized.
Meanwhile, Pan Am organizers say only beef from closely-monitored herds were used in the village, and tried to offer assurances again this week that the athletes weren't at risk.
"We are obviously aware of the problem and of what has happened before (the under-17 tournament) but we are doing our best to control the issue here," Carlos Andrade Garin, the director of Guadalajara 2011, told reporters. "The meat at the athletes village is 100 per cent reliable and we have urged the teams to stick to that. We know where it has come from and we have no doubts. The meat has been analysed and is being watched by police to avoid any chance of contamination so we do not expect problems if the teams follow our advice."
Marshall admitted he'd never heard of anything like the widespread positive tests from the under-17 soccer.
"I can't say that I have, and usually what we're dealing with (at competitions) is diseases such as gastroenteritis and E. coli," he said.
Canada's trampoline team was already struck by a nasty bout of flu or food poisoning — Marshall said it wasn't clear which.
Three-time Olympic medallist Karen Cockburn and Charles Thibault had to withdraw from the trampoline final Tuesday night after falling ill. Cockburn was the defending Pan Am champion and favourite to win gold after leading in the preliminary round.
"We looked at their sources of food, and found nothing," Marshall said. "It's tough when they travel too, and that particular team had been travelling a lot."
The team's protocol in cases like that is to quarantine the ill athletes, either in the medical clinic or in a local hotel where medical staff is staying.