|Ground Alberta beef in seen in coolers at Bon Ton Meat Market in Calgary, Alberta, October 3, 2012. (Reuters/TODD KOROL)
CALGARY - One week after its Brooks plant was shut down due to an E. coli outbreak, XL Foods on Thursday admitted responsibility for the episode that’s led to Canada’s largest meat recall.
The concession, on a taped phone message, came hours after federal inspectors added another 200 items to a recall list that now numbers about 1,700 products.
“We believed XL Foods was a leader with our food safety protocols ... we now learned it is not enough,” states the message’s female voice.
“We take full responsibility for our plant’s operations and the food it produces.”
The company says it’s stepping up its cleaning, training, testing and oversight practises, while giving no indication when the plant, which processes a third of Canada’s beef, will re-open.
“Meat will continue to be under quarantine until test results are known,” the message says.
“Food safety is simply too important to our customers, our employees and our business ... we will continue to work collaboratively with 48 CFIA inspectors at the plant to ensure something like this never happens again.”
Video monitoring of inspections, it says, will be an industry first at a plant that, when it reopens, will begin with limited production runs.
But officials with XL Foods have still refused to answer media questions.
What cattle producers urgently need is for the plant to go back on line, said Dr. David Chalack, chairman of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency Ltd.
The fall is a sensitive time of year for ranchers who are selling their cattle for slaughter, he said.
“It does establish a bottleneck, and if it goes longer, it’ll affect more consumers,” Chalack said.
“It’s very concerning, it’s a sizeable operation.”
Chalack said it’s “no exaggeration” a longer closure of the XL Foods plant could lead to some ranchers going out of business.
But he said beef consumption in Alberta hasn’t wavered much, for which he and producers are thankful.
So far, the situation has hit the cow cull hardest, sinking the price for such animals by about 15%, he said.
In Alberta, E. coli infection in five people has been traced to the Brooks plant, whose products were first recalled Sept. 16.
But questions remain over why it took at least 12 days after first confirming the contamination for the CFIA to issue the warnings.
CFIA officials said plant managers delayed several days in providing testing documents, which hindered efforts to learn the full extent of the problem.
Details on the recall can be found here.