Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut August 13, 2004 - 3:50 pm

Agency warns of dangerous ground beef

“All raw hamburger should be considered contaminated”


If you want to avoid a nasty, contagious, and life-threatening disease, then you better check the label on that hamburger meat lying in your freezer.

Even better, you should learn how to cook hamburger meat properly so that it doesn’t make you or your family sick.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said last Saturday that people should not buy or eat regular, lean, or extra lean ground beef produced by Westfair Foods Ltd., a subsidiary of the Loblaws food giant, carrying best-before dates between June 14 and June 24.

That’s because it may be contaminated with the E. coli 0157 bacteria, the bug that causes a serious infection sometimes known as “hamburger disease,” or “barbecue syndrome.”

Bruce Trotter, the Nunavut government’s environmental health officer, said people should approach all hamburger meat with caution.

“My personal view is that all raw hamburger should be considered contaminated,” Trotter said.

But he said that all hamburger meat, if cooked thoroughly to an internal temperature of 71 C (160 F), is safe to eat — because thorough cooking kills all the bacteria.

When cooking hamburger meat, you should also wash your hands thoroughly, clean all surfaces that come into contact with the raw meat, and make burger patties thin enough that they cook all the way through.

In the winter of 1991-92, a serious outbreak of hamburger disease in the Kivalliq region caused two deaths and infected more than 100 people in Arviat and Rankin Inlet.

At the time, it was the biggest outbreak of E. coli infection in Canada, surpassed only by the Walkerton disaster in 2000, when seven people died and more than 2,000 people got sick when the Ontario community’s water supply became contaminated.

Also in 2000, at least 13 Nunavummiut fell ill with hamburger disease after eating contaminated ground beef. No one died, but three children suffered serious kidney damage.

“We haven’t seen any E. coli in Nunavut for three years, and I hope it stays that way,” Trotter said.

This most recent occurrence in Canada came to light just recently, after two people in Manitoba fell ill with hamburger disease, said Garfield Balsom, a spokesperson for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Public health officials in Manitoba traced the infections back to ground beef distributed by Westfair.

The E. coli 0157 bacteria produces a toxin that attacks the lining of the intestines and damages the kidneys. Healthy adults usually survive, but infants, the elderly, and those with chronic health problems are at great risk of dying if infected.

The health advisory extends to batches of regular, lean and extra lean ground beef produced by the company, and sold between June 12 and June 24, and sold by the following retailers:

  * Real Canadian Superstore
  * Real Canadian Wholesale Club
  * Extra Foods
  * Super Valu
  * Food Fair, Whitehorse, Yukon

Balsom said no batches of tainted hamburger meat have been traced to stores east of Thunder Bay, Ont.

But Trotter says that Nunavummiut, no matter where they live in the territory, should make sure that they cook their hamburger meat properly, wash their hands, and wash all affected surfaces in their kitchen.

To that end, a GN health advisory issued two days after the federal announcement says the warning affects Nunavummiut who order meat through food mail from Edmonton, Winnipeg — and even Quebec.

You can find more information about hamburger disease at:

Email this story to a friend... Print this page... Bookmark and Share