Contaminated beef is a known vehicle of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infection, although more attention is given to the control of E. coli O157:H7 in ground, rather than whole-cut, beef products. In September 2012, an investigation was initiated at an Alberta, Canada, beef plant after the detection of E. coli O157:H7 in two samples of trim cut from beef originating from this plant. Later in September 2012, Alberta Health Services identified five laboratory-confirmed infections of E. coli O157:H7, and case patients reported eating needle-tenderized beef steaks purchased at a store in Edmonton, Alberta, produced with beef from the Alberta plant. In total, 18 laboratory-confirmed illnesses in Canada in September and October 2012 were linked to beef from the Alberta plant, including the five individuals who ate needle-tenderized steaks purchased at the Edmonton store. A unique strain of E. coli O157:H7, defined by molecular subtyping and whole genome sequencing, was detected in clinical isolates, four samples of leftover beef from case patient homes, and eight samples of Alberta plant beef tested by industry and food safety partners. Investigators identified several deficiencies in the control of E. coli O157:H7 at the plant; in particular, the evaluation of, and response to, the detection of E. coli O157 in beef samples during routine testing were inadequate. To control the outbreak, 4,000 tons of beef products were recalled, making it the largest beef recall in Canadian history. This outbreak, in combination with similar outbreaks in the United States and research demonstrating that mechanical tenderization can transfer foodborne pathogens present on the surface into the interior of beef cuts, prompted amendments to Canada's Food and Drug Regulations requiring mechanically tenderized beef to be labeled as such and to provide safe cooking instructions to consumers. A detailed review of this event also led to recommendations and action to improve the safety of Canada's beef supply.
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