|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 -- More than a month after it was shuttered in the midst of the country's largest-ever beef recall, the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., resumed operations Monday.
The Lakeside Packers facility had its licence suspended Sept. 27 by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) following concerns of E. coli contamination.
Up to 2,000 meat products were recalled and the Public Health Agency of Canada reports 16 cases of human E. coli were linked to meat from the plant.
On Oct. 17, it was announced JBS USA would take over management of the facility and six days later, the CFIA announced the plant could resume operations under enhanced oversight by inspectors.
JBS USA spokesman Cameron Bruett said approximately 650 workers were back on the job Monday as slaughter operations began again.
"We're excited to have our first day back and we're looking forward to many more successful days in the future," he said, adding the balance of the 2,200 staffers will be brought in later this week for meat processing.
The CFIA reports it will increase the frequency of monitoring, sampling and testing and will detain products until it has determined plant controls are properly managing E. coli risks.
"During this time, the Agency will stop operations at any point if concerns are identified," a CFIA spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
"It's very positive," said Doug O'Halloran, president of the union that represents the workers temporarily laid off while the company made improvements required by the CFIA to get its licence back.
"There's a light at the end of the tunnel -- it's hard going without a paycheque in the best of times."
O'Halloran said the union is still calling for a public inquiry into "what went wrong" at the plant and will be keeping a close eye on line speeds in relation to both food and worker safety.
Brooks Mayor Martin Shields said though people in his city are "relieved" operations have restarted, it's going to take awhile for the local economy to rebound.
"We (were) losing over $200,000 a day in lost wages," he said. "It's going to take awhile for that bounce to happen, but we believe it will.
"There's that air of optimism."