By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Ten people have now fallen sick from contaminated beef products from a Canadian plant that sent its meat across Canada and the United States, more than twice the number earlier reported, health officials said on Saturday.
The latest cases, linked to one of Canada's largest-ever meat recalls, include three more illnesses in Alberta, where the giant XL Foods beef processing plant is located, two in Quebec and one in Newfoundland and Labrador.
All 10 people are recovering, the health and food inspection officials said on a conference call with reporters.
The ever-widening recall of meat from the plant now involves more than 1,800 products including steaks, ground beef and roasts and now spans all of Canada and most U.S. states.
The previous four cases were also in Alberta, and officials say they have evidence that these victims ate meat produced by the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta, which has been shut down since September 27.
The United States stopped importing meat from the plant on September 13.
The Canadian officials said the six new cases were caused by the same strain of the E. coli bacteria as the previous cases.
The officials said they cannot prove that the sick people ate food from XL. But Dr. Frank Plummer, chief science officer of Canada's Public Health Agency, said it was almost certain that all 10 cases trace back to the XL Foods meat recall.
The bacteria strain in this case has a unique "genetic fingerprint" never before seen in Canada or the United States, he said.
The XL plant, one of the largest in Canada, slaughtered about 4,500 cattle per day. It will remain closed until the privately held company complies with a series of requests for corrective action from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said Dr. Richard Arsenault, CFIA director of meat programs.
Inspectors found that while XL Foods had an appropriate plan to control food safety risks, it didn't fully carry it out.
The company said on Friday it deeply regretted the sickness caused by consumption of beef products. It promised to "exceed existing high standards and regain the trust of Canadian consumers."
The recall comes four years after a recall of deli meat produced at Maple Leaf Foods that killed 22 people. It has led to calls from opposition legislators for the Canadian Agriculture Minister, Gerry Ritz, to resign.
Ritz has said the government did all it could to protect Canadians.
Symptoms of sickness from E. coli include bloody diarrhea, vomiting and fever. (Additional reporting by Janet Guttsman; Editing by Eric Walsh)