Beef plant re-opens
The Alberta plant at the centre of an E. coli scare and massive beef recall is being allowed to resume limited operations under tougher food testing rules.
But the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says no products will leave the XL Foods meat packer in Brooks until the agency is satisfied they're safe.
"Beginning today XL Foods will be permitted to resume limited in-house cutting and further processing under strict enhanced oversight," Harpreet Kochhar, executive director for the agency's western operations, said Thursday.
"This will allow the CFIA to review in a controlled manner the company's improvements made to all previously addressed deficiencies."
The plant was shut down Sept. 27 during an ever-expanding recall of its beef products across Canada and more than 20 other countries. It hasn't been allowed to ship meat to its biggest market, the United States, for four weeks. The restrictions have led to lower cattle prices and a backlog of thousands of slaughter-ready animals in feedlots and ranches.
Kochhar said the plant has been cleaned and sanitized, and issues around condensation, drainage and ice buildup have also been addressed.
Workers will begin processing, under the scrutiny of more inspectors, 5,100 beef carcasses already inside the plant. No new animals will be slaughtered.
The carcasses have been tested for E. coli and are 99 per cent free of the bacteria, Kochhar said.
The main focus will be on more stringent E. coli control measures that have been imposed since a strain of the bacteria made 12 people sick in four provinces. There will be more tests of meat samples and increased monitoring of sanitation and hygiene.
"Meat from these carcasses will remain under CFIA detention," he said. "Products will not be allowed to leave the premises until the CFIA has confirmed in writing to the minister of agriculture and agri-food that the plant controls are effectively and consistently managing E. coli risks.
"The CFIA will immediately suspend operations if inspectors note any concerns with the facility's food-safety controls."
Brian Nilsson, co-CEO of the company, said the tougher testing rules will allow XL Foods to identify meat at risk of E. coli and make sure it does not leave the plant.
"Our goal is to make sure it never happens again," Nilsson said in a release. "We are optimistic to take this first strong step in concert with the CFIA towards resuming production in the facility."
The XL Foods plant is the second-largest meat packer in the country behind Cargill, and slaughters and processes more than one-third of Canada's beef.
Richard Arsenault, director of meat programs at the agency, said the lessons learned at XL Foods will eventually be applied to other meat plants.
He suggested the CFIA will not lower enhanced food-safety standards that are now in place at the Brooks facility. The goal is to eliminate E. coli as much as possible from meat.
"Our goal here is that this will not be something that we will have happen in the next three months, six months, or ever again," Arsenault said.
"Our staff are paying special attention at what is going on in that plant to verify that the new written procedures are being effectively implemented."
The union for workers at the packing house has said problems go deeper than that. Doug O'Halloran told a news conference Wednesday that the pace of slaughter operations forces workers to take shortcuts around cleanliness and puts the health of beef-eating Canadians at risk...
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.