|Cattle graze in a field adjacent to XL Foods plant shown in Brooks, Alberta, about 200 km east of Calgary. (JIM WELLS/QMI AGENCY)
CALGARY -- The new American operators of the E. coli-plagued XL Foods plant say they're convinced they'll soon be safely running at full production.
And while JBS USA president Bill Rupp said they'll gladly work closely with federal inspectors, he insisted it's up to his company to keep its beef contaminant-free.
"Certainly the government has a role in the facility but we don't depend on government to ensure food safety," Rupp said, speaking to reporters for the first time since it was announced last week the firm would be taking over the Brooks, Alta., facility,
The plant is slated to begin limited processing operations on Monday, eventually ramping up to full capacity that'll require all 2,200 of its original staffers.
It was closed Sept. 27 in the midst of a recall of potentially E. coli-tainted beef that ultimately impacted about 2,000 products, while 16 people have fallen ill from eating meat linked to it.
Rupp said JBS will employ a safety regime that's proven effective in its eight U.S. plants.
"I think our process goes above and beyond what the government would look at for food safety," he said. "Does the process mean we'll never have a positive trim sample? No."
The beef boss admitted that after closely following news of the XL Foods setback, some of his own Colorado-based employees were leery about taking over the Brooks plant.
"They had concerns and weren't sure what we were getting into," said Rupp, adding that after touring the facility, those doubts vanished.
"They think it's a good plant, a good, clean facility -- I don't think it needs anything to begin operating."
JBS brass have already been working with U.S. regulators with an eye to having the plant's beef circulating once again in the U.S.
Foreign exports are an industry lifeblood, he said.
One way of ensuring that happens sooner, JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett said, is having an independent safety audit conducted.
"Our job here is not to rehash the past but to get people to work ... and get beef back on the plates of domestic consumers and consumers around the world," Bruett said.
Canadian cattlemen and Brooks-area politicians expressed relief and gratitude for JBS' efforts in re-opening the plant, a major employer there.
They also applauded JBS's decision to donate $20,000 to the city's food bank to help those temporarily laid off due to the plant closure.
Brooks Mayor Martin Shields said hardships linger but that recovery's on the horizon.
"It's been a roller-coaster month," Shields said.