E.coli vaccine effective but underused, says researcher

Farmers, consumers all have role to play when it comes to food safety

In 2012, Canada experienced its largest beef recall of the year, all because of E. coli.

XL Foods Inc. in Brooks, Alta., was shut down and its license temporarily suspended for several months that fall.

The plant was not to be reopened until the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was certain it could produce safe food for Canadians.

Consumers called for higher food safety in all plants after this incident, which started with E. coli.

E. coli can live in animals such as cattle and not harm them.

However, certain strains, such as E. coli O15,7 can be found in cattle’s manure and can make people sick if they ingest it.

The process starts with cattle on the farm, which take E. coli with them when they are transported to packing plants.

Tim McAllister, a principal research scientist with Agriculture Canada, said a vaccine is available that can stop the bacteria from making the trip.

However, it is not widely used.

“Its efficacy across all these various productions systems is also questionable,” McAllister said.

“It may work under some circumstances, but it doesn’t work under all circumstances.”

Feedlot operators may try to reduce the amount of E. coli that travels to packing plants by keeping tag off their animals, but this isn’t necessarily supported by science.

Dr. Joyce Van Donkersgoed, a veterinarian specializing in advanced bovine medicine and epidemiology, said there is no research that shows a hide that is cleaned reduces the risk of spreading E. coli.

“We find actually with dry hides, when the hide is removed … the bacteria can be in the dust and you can actually have higher contamination on a carcass with dry, clean, apparently clean looking, hide than you do with dirty hides,” said Donkersgoed.

Reynold Bergen, science director with the Beef Cattle Research Council, said studies have found increased E. coli shedding during transportation, but he doesn’t know if that is just because cattle have more bowel movements in the trailer.

Bergen said the main way to protect consumers from E. coli is to adequately clean carcasses at the slaughter plant.

Safety measures are in place to make sure this happens, but the 2012 XL outbreak showed they are not fool proof.

Bergen said everybody has a role to play from farm to plate when it comes to food safety.

Donkersgoed said packing plants need to do their part in keeping food safe, but consumers also have to cook their food properly.

“The consumer has a role to play, you know, to make sure they cook their meat properly. It’s no different with chicken,” she said.

“We know it has salmonella so you never … eat raw chicken. You cook your chicken properly.”

Consumers now have instructions on mechanically tenderized meat that informs them how long they need to cook a steak for it to be safe.

This packaging came into effect following the XL recall.

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