September 2, 2003

 

 

Tainted Beef Products in England's Windsor Caused Meat-Related Sickness

 

Public-health officials from the Windsor-Essex health unit are investigating the epidemiological links among 56 people from Windsor, who reported stomach ailments after eating meat processed at Aylmer Meat Packers Inc., which has been shut down by the province.

 

The Windsor-Essex health unit is conducting in-depth interviews with the people, all of whom bought meat from stores carrying beef from the meat-packing company, which is now under criminal investigation.

 

"We are treating this as a cluster of food-borne illnesses. All these individuals who phoned us said they were ill with chills, abdominal cramps and diarrhea after buying meats from stores listed on the recall," said Allen Heimann, medical officer of health for the Windsor-Essex health unit.

 

Federal authorities issued a province-wide recall of all beef products from the plant last week. The recall affected scores of retailers, but it was not known if tainted meat reached dinner tables.

 

Dr. Heimann said officials will investigate where the victims bought the meat, how they prepared it and when they ate it.

 

"We are the only health unit in the province that has reported a cluster of this magnitude. Other health units are reporting just one or two cases of illness," he said.

 

Officials will also collect the meat samples that made people ill, as well as stool samples, where possible. "We will send the samples to the lab and look for common bacteria and then see if we can link it to a meat product."

 

He said the meat may have become tainted after it left Aylmer, and may have spoiled on its way to the stores where it was sold.

 

The 56 people who became ill vary in age from 1 to 89, and most suffered from gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea and vomiting that did not last more than 24 hours. Nobody had to go to hospital. "We had husbands and wives calling, as well as individuals and small family groups who got together for barbecues," Dr. Heimann said. The first onset of symptoms occurred Aug. 20.

 

Last week, police began a criminal investigation into Aylmer Meat Packers, at the request of the province, which pulled its license.

 

The investigation will focus on Aylmer's butchering and processing practices and on allegations that it was processing dead animals, said Bruce O'Neill, a spokesman for the province's Ministry of Public Safety and Security.

 

Investigators allege the plant was butchering dead stock - carcasses of animals that had died on a farm or in transit instead of being slaughtered on the plant's killing line.