Cattle graze in a field adjacent to XL Foods plant shown in Brooks, Alberta, about 200 km east of Calgary. It is not known if the cows shown are owned by XL or a private farmer. (JIM WELLS/QMI AGENCY)
CALGARY — As inspectors descended on the shuttered meat processing plant in Brooks, Alta., Tuesday, the company behind the country's largest beef recall issued its first comments in days.
"We have worked diligently to address all corrective actions and want to thank our employees who have worked tirelessly to prepare us for this inspection," said XL Foods co-CEO Brian Nilsson in a statement Tuesday.
"We will continue to work co-operatively with the (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) as they conduct due diligence and verification of our intensified and enhanced food safety systems."
The CFIA began an inspection of the XL plant Tuesday after the company issued a recall on meat products -- now up to 1,800 different items -- due to E. coli contamination concerns.
The CFIA suspended the plant's licence and inspectors slapped XL with demands, many of them sanitation-related.
Eleven cases of E. coli -- one in B.C., seven in Alberta, two in Quebec and one in Newfoundland and Labrador -- have been linked to XL, says the Public Health Agency of Canada.
The news release said members of the XL community "deeply regret the illnesses caused by the consumption of beef products. Our thoughts are with the affected people at this time."
Guy Gravelle with the CFIA said more information on Tuesday's assessment at the plant would likely be made public Wednesday.
"We're still waiting to hear back from the people we had on the grounds," he said.
The leader of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, which represents staffers at the plant, said there is still a desperate need for "food safety culture" at the facility.
Doug O'Halloran said for years the union has voiced concerns about training for temporary foreign workers, line speed and the need for whistle-blower protection. "We've dealt with other CEOs in the meat packing industry, but we've never come across anyone who wouldn't at least meet with us to talk about food safety," he said.
O'Halloran and Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan will hold a news conference in Brooks Wednesday.
Meanwhile, XL's handling of public relations -- communicating with media only through occasional statements -- was criticized by Alberta Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith during a luncheon in downtown Calgary.
"I wish the company, XL Foods, had taken a page from Maple Leaf (Foods) when they had their tragedy in 2008," she said, referring to the listeriosis outbreak that killed 22 people.
"The CEO (Michael McCain) was very up front about it, gave press conferences, kept the public informed," she said.
Smith called for a full review once the plant is reopened to understand what broke down in the regulatory and communication processes.