While beef products are being pulled from grocery store shelves and kitchen freezers across the continent over fears of potential E. coli poisoning, butcher shops specializing in organic and locally raised and slaughtered beef are seeing a boom in business.
Mike Lindsay, manager of Hopcott Premium Meats’ butcher shop, says business is booming since the Canadian Food Inspection Agency began recalling products from the XL Foods meat processing plant in Alberta.
“Our phone has been ringing off the hook with people asking us if we’re affected,” said Lindsay.
The answer, of course, is no, as all of the beef sold at Hopcott is raised next door on the Hopcott’s family farm.
“It goes from our farm, to the slaughterhouse in Pitt Meadows, to our butcher shop,” said Lindsay. “It never leaves Pitt Meadows.”
Lindsay estimates business has increased five to 10 per cent at Hopcott since the recall began.
He isn’t surprised by the E. coli scare, as the scale of the massive operations like XL Foods can lead to safety and health oversights.
The XL Foods Lakeside Packing plant in Brooks, Alta. at the source of the E. coli outbreak employs more than 2,000 people, and can process more than 4,500 cattle per day.
“When you are that big, some things get missed,” said Lindsay. “We have four meat cutters here, and we might do 10 beef a week, so nothing gets by us.”
At the end of every day, all the equipment at Hopcott’s butcher shop is sprayed with an antibacterial foam, then pressure washed.
After being squeegeed dry, the entire room is sprayed with sanitizer.
“Safety is our number one concern,” said Lindsay.
Hopcott Premium Meats has received constant low hazard ratings from Fraser Health’s food inspectors, going back to 2010.
In Maple Ridge, Organic World on Dewdney Trunk Road has also seen increased demand for their organic beef products, none of which were affected by the CFIA’s recall.
The specialty meats store carries only organic Black Diamond beef from Alberta, raised free of pesticide spraying, genetic modification, hormones, and antibiotics. The store’s butcher shop has also received consistent low hazard ratings from Fraser Health inspectors.
Organic and local beef is more expensive than the factory farmed beef found in grocery stores, about 20 per cent more on average, but the quality and taste is superior, said Lindsay.
“We can’t compete with their prices, so we compete on quality, and we have them beat,” he said. Hopcott’s beef is guaranteed hormone and antibiotic free, and takes 18 months to raise as opposed to the nine-to-12 months for factory farm cattle. The cattle are even fed local grains, resulting in beef that is graded either AAA, or prime.
“The bottom line is, know where your meat comes from,” said Lindsay. “I think people are starting to get the idea.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency expanded its recall again Thursday morning to include close to 100 more beef products made with the potentially E. coli-tainted beef from XL Foods, brining the total number of products pulled off of shelves to more than 1,500.
The CFIA is urging the public not to consume beef products suspected of being part of the recall, and throw them out instead.
Among local retailers believed to have sold the potentially tainted products are Extra Foods, Real Canadian Superstore, IGA, Cooper’s Foods, Safeway, Save-On-Foods, and Thrifty Foods, with most retailers offering refunds for customers with proof of purchase.
CFIA initially announced on Sept. 16 the voluntary recall of raw beef products produced from Alberta’s XL Foods meat processing plant on Aug. 24, 27, 28, 29 and Sept. 5, after tests found E. coli bacteria in samples of raw beef trimmings two weeks earlier.
Last week, the CFIA temporarily suspended XL Food’s license to operate until adequate food safety controls are put in place.
According to the CFIA, the detection of E. coli in slaughter facilities is not uncommon. However, XL Foods was lax in its testing and control procedures, and failed to prevent potentially-tainted meat from leaving the plant.
Food contaminated with E. coli may not look or smell spoiled, and consumption may cause serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses.
Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, seizures or strokes, and some may need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. In severe cases of illness, E. coli poisoning can be fatal.