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)
Under the very close watch of inspectors, limited work at the XL Foods plant in Brooks was allowed to resume Thursday.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) officials descended on the Lakeside Packers facility Tuesday after XL indicated it was ready for assessment. The plant was shuttered Sept. 27 in the wake of a recall -- which now includes some 1,800 products and is considered the largest beef recall in Canada -- due to concerns about E. coli contamination.
A dozen cases of E. coli -- one in B.C., seven in Alberta, three in Quebec and one in Newfoundland and Labrador -- have been liked to the XL situation, the Public Health Agency of Canada reports.
On Thursday, the CFIA spoke out about its findings during this week’s inspection, which was looking to ensure XL had completed requirements demanded of it before its licence could be reinstated.
“With regard to maintenance and sanitation, the team verified that the plant has been appropriately cleaned and sanitized; XL Foods has also fixed specific maintenance issues including condensation, drainage problems and ice build up and freezer doors,” said Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, the CFIA’s executive director of western operations.
“With regard to E. coli controls, our inspectors have reviewed and assessed the corrective action plan put forward by the company.
“While the plan appears comprehensive and appropriate on paper, we need to confirm its full implementation and effectiveness in action.”
The company has not been given its licence back yet and is not allowed to slaughter cattle, nor is any meat allowed to leave the plant without CFIA approval.
However, approximately 5,100 carcasses in the plant were tested for E. coli and 99% of them tested negative. Those carcasses can be cut and packaged as a means of allowing CFIA inspectors to evaluate company procedures.
Any carcasses that tested positive for E. coli were discarded.
The CFIA, which has faced some criticism seeing as it has 40 inspectors and six veterinarians permanently stationed at the plant, said it will add two additional inspectors to the mix as scrutiny of XL is stepped up and tasks are monitored more frequently.
“Our inspection staff are doing their job,” said Dr. Richard Arsenault, the CFIA’s director of meat programs.
“Our goal here is that this will not be something that we will have happen in the next three months, six months, ever again.”
“Our staff are paying especially prudent attention to what’s going on in that plant.”
Arsenault said the CFIA is in constant contact with its American counterparts at the United States Department of Agriculture but is still waiting for the evidence it needs to make an application for exports to be accepted again.
A timeline on when the plant might get its licence back or be able to ship out products again is not yet known.