|The sign at the main entrance to XL Foods plant is shown in Brooks, Alberta, about 200 km east of Calgary. The company's Brooks plant, which processes about a third of Canada's beef, had its licence suspended Sept. 27 in the midst of a massive recall on meat products due to potential E. coli contamination that is now estimated to include between 1,700 and 1,800 items. JIM WELLS/CALGARY SUN
CALGARY - Food inspection officials Wednesday were pouring over a report likely containing the fate of a shuttered meat processing facility in Brooks.
“The team’s review did last the entire day and a report was sent to officials late (Tuesday),” said Lisa Gauthier with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which investigated the XL Foods plant at the centre of the country’s largest beef recall, now totalling about 1,800 products.
The company’s licence was suspended last month in the weeks following concerns of E. coli contamination.
On Wednesday, the Public Health Agency of Canada upped the number of E. coli cases linked to the XL situation from 11 to one dozen, the latest in Quebec.
Seven of those cases have been in Alberta, one was in B.C., three were in Quebec and one was in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We’re taking time to carefully review that report before any decision on the next steps will be taken,” said Gauthier Wednesday.
“As of now, they still don’t have their licence.”
Guy Gravelle, another CFIA spokesperson, said it wasn’t clear Wednesday whether further inspection would be required and when the plant might reopen.
Meanwhile, the union representing workers at the plant said it has been pushing for changes to food safety culture at the facility for a long time.
If improvements aren’t made, suggests Doug O’Halloran, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, the union will be forced to push for new ownership.
“The line speed is too fast on normal days,” O’Halloran said.
“Higher speeds in processing carcasses have led to shorter times to ensure equipment and meat is clean.
“On extraordinary days, when workers are missing from work, the line speed needs to be adjusted downward.”
The plant also hasn’t ensured foreign workers have adequate training and knowledge of what their rights are, alleged O’Halloran.
XL Foods released a statement in response to the union Wednesday, saying the company runs its line speed at less than industry average for a plant of this size and within regulatory requirements, and is always open to discussions with employees and the union.
“I am saddened that the UFCW has chosen to attack the workmanship of its many members,” said co-CEO Brian Nilsson.
“We have extensive training programs for new workers and hold our workers in the highest regard for their abilities.”
Despite the massive recall, Canadians still seem to be eating beef, said Dave Wilkes, senior vice-president of the grocery division with the Retail Council of Canada, which represents most major grocers including Loblaws, Canada Safeway, Walmart and Sobeys.
“There really has been marginal impact on the sales of beef,” said Wilkes, adding consumers can be sure any potentially contaminated products have long been removed from store shelves.
“When the product was identified, it was immediately pulled off the shelf ... it’s either returned or disposed of.”
The financial impacts to stores will vary, he said, however there are currently no estimates on what those impacts are.