VANCOUVER — A Nanaimo resident has become the first person in British Columbia confirmed to have been sickened by tainted beef processed by the XL Foods plant in Alberta.
Health officials say lab tests that came back Monday showed the man’s E. coli illness was caused by the same strain that has made at least 10 others sick across the country.
Officials say the man came down with symptoms in mid-September, was hospitalized and has since recovered. They could not immediately say the person’s age.
“This shows there is a potential risk in B.C., but this is not a surprise to us,” Dr. Eleni Galanis, with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, told reporters after the results were released.
She noted it’s estimated about a third of B.C.’s beef comes from the plant in Brooks, Alta., meaning some of the contaminated beef likely was sold in provincial stores.
“Although, that is hopefully mostly off the shelves by now,” she said. “However, it might have led to some infections and this would have occurred probably during the month of September.”
The massive beef recall began after E. coli was detected at the plant last month. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Monday products exported to more than 20 countries were being sent back to XL Foods. That includes about 1.1. million kilograms sold to the U.S.
Galanis said that in general, two to three E. coli cases are reported in B.C. every week.
She said there were 11 cases in September.
“Every one of those cases is being investigated thoroughly to identify any potential link,” she said.
Canadians have also fallen ill in Alberta, Quebec and Newfoundland.
Galanis said the specific strain of E. coli 0157:H7 has not been seen in North America before, but it has so far only caused “moderate” illness. That includes diarrhea and stomach cramps.
Neither she, nor other health officials, could further describe the B.C. victim’s symptoms or say what beef product he ate or where it was consumed.
Health officials are urging consumers to check their fridges to ensure they don’t have any packages of the recalled meat. They also remind people to wash their hands when cooking and to cook beef thoroughly to prevent food-borne illnesses.
The CFIA says it will go into the Alberta plant on Tuesday to conduct a detailed assessment after XL Foods asked to have its license reinstated.