October 23, 2012
XL Foods allowed to resume operations
By Bill Kaufmann, QMI Agency
CALGARY — The E. coli-stricken XL Food plant got the green light to resume operations Tuesday, but federal inspectors said it'll be some time before full confidence is restored.
After being shuttered Sept. 27 following the discovery of E. coli in its products three weeks before, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Paul Mayers said they've added two more monitors in stepped-up safety efforts at the Brooks, Alta., plant.
"The enhancement is to have confidence the food-safety controls applied by the company are consistently applied — the concern is the consistency wasn't there earlier," said Mayers, the CFIA's associate vice-president of programs.
A panel of experts will investigate how the contamination occurred and ways to prevent others, but Mayers said their concerns centre around how XL Foods' own monitors were ensuring hygiene, testing and responding to sample results.
As a result, he said, federal inspectors will be closely overseeing company inspections for an undetermined amount of time.
"Things we'd do on a weekly basis, we're doing daily," said Mayers.
Even so, he said the CFIA "can't provide an absolute guarantee that events will not occur."
The CFIA will build up that confidence before requesting U.S. officials end their de-listing of products from the Brooks plant, added Mayer.
So far, 16 people have fallen ill due to exposure to E. coli linked to the XL Foods facility.
In a statement Tuesday, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz urged the opposition to endorse the Safe Food for Canadians Act, which the feds says will strengthen the government's oversight in food plants.
“I encourage all members of Parliament to give this important act their full attention and pass it expeditiously," he said.
Staff will undergo training this week with an eye to resuming processing operations on Monday, said Doug O'Halloran, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401.
"It's pretty positive, everyone's pretty elated that paycheques are going to be coming in and that's very important when you're living paycheque to paycheque," said O'Halloran, adding all of the plant's original 2,200 workers will eventually be back on the job.
The phased-in opening of the Brooks plant is welcome news to cattle producers who have seen a backlog of livestock and increased, costlier shipments to U.S. slaughterhouses nearly double, said Dennis Laycraft, of the Canadian Cattleman's Association.
"We're encouraged. It sounds like a science-based, statistical way to do it," said Laycraft. "We're in the busiest time of year. ... For cattle producers this is where the majority of their income comes from."
He said the reputation of Alberta beef has taken a hit but added he's confident it'll be limited in scope.
Laycraft said he's hopeful new plant manager JBS USA will mean a clean slate.
"With JBS coming in, everyone's looking to turning the page," said Laycraft.
Timeline of the XL Foods E. coli contamination scare
Sept. 4: CFIA inspectors detect heightened levels of E. coli bacteria in beef trimmings from Brooks, Alta., plant.
Sept. 7: Federal inspectors require XL Foods operators to strengthen quality controls.
Sept. 16: The CFIA orders the first recalls of beef products from XL Foods facility.
Sept. 27: The Brooks plant's operating licence is suspended.
Oct. 8: The number of recalled items from Brooks plant reaches 1,800.
Oct. 12-17: CFIA tests show negative results for E. coli at XL Foods.
Oct. 13: XL Foods announces it's laying off 2,000 workers at its shuttered plant.
Pct. 17: Food processor JBS USA announces it will be taking over operations at the Brooks plant.
Oct. 19: The number of illnesses in Canada linked to the E. coli outbreak reaches 16.
Oct. 23: Plant resumes operations on a limited scale with increased federal oversight.