It’s a sorry state of affairs when restaurants and food retailers cut corners to cut costs, and end up poisoning the people that they profit from. It’s even worse when it happens on a large scale, and when hundreds of people get hurt as a result. That’s apparently what has happened in British Columbia over the course of the last few years, as good epidemiological work has recently uncovered a three-year cluster of about 500 salmonella illnesses, thought to have been caused by the service of shell eggs from unregistered, unqualified suppliers. The Vancouver Sun reports as follows:
An investigation by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and local health authorities found that eggs from the chicken meat industry and eggs from unregistered producers were in part behind a 300-per-cent increase in the incidence of Salmonella Enteritidis since 2007.
"We have been in an outbreak situation for three years," said physician epidemiologist Eleni Galanis. "Salmonella usually increases in the summer time, but the rates have been much higher than we are used to."
"Because so many people eat eggs it is difficult to tease out the source," Galanis said. "By following these cases and clusters of cases health authorities found in both restaurants and in retail stores in the Lower Mainland ungraded and broiler hatching eggs being sold to customers or being prepared into meals."
Graded eggs are cleaned and inspected before being sold to consumers. Eggs that come from unregistered producers are not inspected and are more likely to be contaminated, Galanis explained.
"It is allowed for farmers to sell their surplus eggs at the farm gate, but they are not allowed to sell them for resale," she said. BCCDC believes that people were buying surplus eggs in large quantities and reselling them to retailers and to restaurants.
B.C. farmers registered to produce table eggs — eggs that appear on stores shelves as Grade A — adhere to rigorous standards for cleanliness and regular inspections to reduce the risk of salmonella contamination, said Al Sakalauskas, executive director of the B.C. Egg Marketing Board.
Ungraded eggs enter the market when people buy from unregistered producers, he said.
As I am a big fan of emphasizing, the true scope of the BC salmonella problem requires some multiplication. "About 500 cases of salmonella have been reported in B.C. since 2008," the Vancouver Sun continued, "and investigators estimate that the real number of cases may be 13 to 37 times that. One case in seven has required hospitalization. No deaths have been reported." So how many millions in health care costs did BC/Canada incur treating the victims of this complex outbreak?