CFIA Q&A XL Foods Disaster

 

Questions and Answers
Recall of Specific Products from XL Foods Inc. – Establishment 38, Brooks, Alberta

Summary of Events
Information about the recall
Information about Establishment 38 – XL Foods
Information for consumers

Summary of Events

What prompted this voluntary recall by XL Foods Inc.? How did the recall happen?

This voluntary recall initiated by the company follows positive test results for E. coliO157:H7 in product shipped from this facility.

September 4

During routine testing, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) identified a positiveE. coli O157:H7 sample in raw beef trimmings produced at an Alberta facility supplied by XL Foods Inc. Plant management and the CFIA veterinarian in charge at XL Foods Inc were notified of this finding.

The CFIA started investigating immediately to determine if the affected product was in the marketplace and available to consumers.

The detection of E. coli O157:H7 by the CFIA did not lead to an immediate recall because the CFIA quickly determined that potentially harmful product never reached the Canadian marketplace. As such, there was no basis to issue a public alert or recall. In addition, the CFIA asked Health Canada to conduct a health risk assessment to ensure that no further action was required on other products from that facility.

Having confirmed that there was no risk to consumers, the CFIA began to investigate the possible sources of contamination.

That same day, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) notified the CFIA that they had found a positive E. coli O157:H7 sample in beef trimmings from XL Food Inc. during routine testing. This product was subsequently destroyed in the US. The CFIA immediately verified that no product from this affected batch had been distributed in Canada. The CFIA immediately began an investigation of the possible source of this contamination.

September 5

The CFIA continued its investigations to determine the source of the contamination and whether there was a connection between the two positive test results – one found by CFIA and one by FSIS.

In addition, the CFIA issued a “corrective action request” to the Alberta facility supplied by XL Foods Inc., where the initial positive finding originated.

CFIA inspectors also continued to supervise ongoing operations at the plant, including:

  • Verifying that carcasses are clean prior to processing;
  • Continuing to verify that the facility’s maintenance program is operating and that the processing environment is clean;
  • Checking daily that all positive lots are diverted to rendering and/or cooking;
  • Verify that the company is developing and implementing action measures related to the corrective actions requested by the CFIA.

September 6

As part of the investigation, the CFIA requested distribution information and testing results from XL Foods Inc. for all products produced on August 24th and 28th—the days when the affected products were made.

CFIA inspectors also continued to supervise ongoing operations at the plant, including:

  • Verifying that carcasses are clean prior to processing;
  • Continuing to verify that the facility’s maintenance program is operating and that the processing environment is clean;
  • Checking daily that all positive lots are diverted to rendering and/or cooking;
  • Verify that the company is developing and implementing action measures related to the corrective actions requested by the CFIA.

September 7

Through its investigation, the CFIA issued a Corrective Action Request (CAR) to XL Foods Inc. requiring it to strengthen controls around sampling and testing of meat products originating from the facility.

XL Foods Inc. was formally requested to produce detailed information related to product details, distribution, sampling results, and information on the effectiveness of the plant’s preventative controls as soon as possible but no later than September 10th.

CFIA inspectors also continued to supervise ongoing operations at the plant, including:

  • Verifying that carcasses are clean prior to processing;
  • Continuing to verify that the facility’s maintenance program is operating and that the processing environment is clean;
  • Checking daily that all positive lots are diverted to rendering and/or cooking;
  • Verify that the company is developing and implementing action measures related to the corrective actions requested by the CFIA.

September 8 and 9

The CFIA engaged with XL Foods Inc. plant management regarding information requirements. In addition, the 46 CFIA staff in the plant continued their surveillance and oversight activities.

CFIA inspectors also continued to supervise ongoing operations at the plant, including:

  • Verifying that carcasses are clean prior to processing;
  • Continuing to verify that the facility’s maintenance program is operating and that the processing environment is clean;
  • Checking daily that all positive lots are diverted to rendering and/or cooking;
  • Verify that the company is developing and implementing action measures related to the corrective actions requested by the CFIA.

September 10 and 11

Pursuant to CFIA requests to XL Foods on September 6 and 7, information from XL Foods Inc. was provided to the CFIA in a series of submissions over two days. Based on an analysis of the information provided, the CFIA identified August 24th, 28th and September 5th of interest for further investigation.

CFIA inspection staff enhanced monitoring of the de-hiding area for potential contamination and sanitizer temperature.

CFIA inspectors also continued to supervise ongoing operations at the plant, including:

  • Verifying that carcasses are clean prior to processing;
  • Continuing to verify that the facility’s maintenance program is operating and that the processing environment is clean;
  • Checking daily that all positive lots are diverted to rendering and/or cooking;
  • Verify that the company is developing and implementing action measures related to the corrective actions requested by the CFIA.

September 12

As the CFIA’s investigation continued, FSIS notified the CFIA that it had found two more positive E. coli O157:H7 samples in beef trimmings originating from XL Foods Inc. through intensified sampling, which is routinely implemented after a positive finding at the border. The affected shipments were held at the border. The CFIA confirmed that all affected batches were held at the border and subsequently destroyed. No products from these affected lots were distributed in Canada.

Based on the CFIA’s investigation and the new US findings, the Agency sent in a team of technical experts to assist onsite staff conduct an in-depth review of operations in the XL Foods plant and to assess how and where contamination occurred. This in-depth review focused on this plant’s preventative control measures, food-safety policies and procedures, laboratory methodology, and equipment and quality systems. This review went well beyond routine day to day inspection activities, including enhanced monitoring of condensation issues in the plant.

CFIA inspectors also continued to supervise ongoing operations at the plant, including:

  • Verifying that carcasses are clean prior to processing;
  • Continuing to verify that the facility’s maintenance program is operating and that the processing environment is clean;
  • Checking daily that all positive lots are diverted to rendering and/or cooking;
  • Verify that the company is developing and implementing action measures related to the corrective actions requested by the CFIA.

September 13 to September 16

On September 13, the CFIA removed XL Foods Inc. from the list of establishments eligible to export to the US. In the absence of evidence that any affected product from the initial discover had reached the marketplace. In Canada, no product was recalled at this time.

The CFIA’s technical review team determined that there was no single critical factor that would lead to E. coli O157:H7 contamination of product leaving the plant. The review team concluded that a combination of the following deficiencies contributed to the contamination issues.

  • Although XL Foods Inc. had monitoring measures in place, trend analysis of the data collected was not being properly conducted. CFIA review found that the plant needed to improve its trend analysis and also strengthen its response measures when a higher than normal number of positive test results are found.
  • While the company’s measures for dealing with meat that tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 were properly laid out, they were not always being followed correctly. For example, while containers of meat testing positive for E. coliO157:H7 were properly handled, a small number of containers produced immediately before and after the contaminated product were not always diverted from the fresh meat line. This process, known as bracketing, is an established food safety control.
  • Sampling protocols were not always followed by plant staff, which could have resulted in some inaccurate test results.

In addition, the CFIA team noted that the company’s maintenance plan required updating in order to address minor sanitary issues such as control of condensation and ventilation issues. These specific deficiencies are not likely related to the E. coliO157:H7 contamination.

The CFIA laboratory investigation determined that the protocol and methods used by the private laboratory providing testing support to XL Foods Inc. were effective and accurate.

Based on the findings of the CFIA’s in-depth review, XL Foods Inc began to advise its customers that it was recalling beef trimmings for three days of production (August 24 and 28 and September 5).

These raw beef trimmings were sold to other companies that make them into other products. Therefore, CFIA began contacting those other companies, including grocery chains, to identify where their products, using these raw beef trimmings, were further distributed and/or sold.

CFIA inspectors also continued to supervise ongoing operations at the plant, including:

  • Verifying that carcasses are clean prior to processing;
  • Continuing to verify that the facility’s maintenance program is operating and that the processing environment is clean;
  • Checking daily that all positive lots are diverted to rendering and/or cooking;
  • Verify that the company is developing and implementing action measures related to the corrective actions requested by the CFIA.

September 16

The CFIA and XL Foods, Inc. began issuing health hazard alerts warning the public, distributors, grocery chains and food service establishments not to consume, sell, or serve specific ground beef products made from XL Foods beef trimmings from August 24th, 28th and September 5th that may have been contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

As noted above, these specific dates were tied to clear sampling findings.

CFIA continued to review data to assess whether there were other dates of production requiring action. Over the following few days, CFIA requested additional company production and distribution data.

CFIA inspectors also continued to supervise ongoing operations at the plant, including:

  • Verifying that carcasses are clean prior to processing;
  • Continuing to verify that the facility’s maintenance program is operating and that the processing environment is clean;
  • Checking daily that all positive lots are diverted to rendering and/or cooking;
  • Verify that the company is developing and implementing action measures related to the corrective actions requested by the CFIA.

September 17:

CFIA activated its national emergency operations centre to enhance coordination of response activities and information sharing in the Agency with public health partners and other government departments.

The CFIA issued an updated health hazard alert identifying more products manufactured from the recalled beef trimmings. All products covered by this updated health hazard alert were still tied to the three production dates for beef trimmings of August 24th, 28th and September 5th.

When dealing with potentially unsafe food, the CFIA needs to be sure that it has the right products identified and all products identified. This can be a time consuming process that involves securing and analyzing production and distribution records, which are often extensive and contained in various sources. It can also entail locating appropriate food samples and conducting tests. At the retail level, it can entail reviewing labels, distribution information and identification codes so that consumer can be properly informed of products at risk. Balancing the need to have reliable information with the need to inform the public as soon as possible means that the CFIA regularly alerts consumers of recalled product while investigations are still ongoing. With this approach, incremental health hazard alerts are often issued for large recalls such as this one.

September 18

CFIA issued five additional Corrective Action Requests (CARs) for XL Foods for corrective action plans for all of the deficiencies that were identified by the technical review team. There are varying dates of completion for the corrective actions to be taken depending on risk.

As a result of additional trace-out activity at the retail level the CFIA issued a second updated Health Hazard Alert identifying more products, from secondary processors, manufactured from the recalled beef trimmings. Again all products covered by this update were still tied to the three production dates for beef trimmings of August 24th, 28th and September 5th.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) advised the CFIA that Alberta Health Services was investigating five cases of E. coli O157:H7 infection. At this time there was no link between the illnesses and XL Foods Inc. Alberta Health was assessing a possible link between 4 of the illnesses and steaks purchased at Costco in Edmonton.

September 19

Following more trace out activities, the CFIA issued a third updated Health Hazard Alert identifying more products, from secondary processors, manufactured from the recalled beef trimmings. All products covered by this update were still tied to the three production dates for beef trimmings of August 24th, 28th and September 5th.

September 20

The CFIA issued a fourth updated Health Hazard Alert after identifying more products, from secondary processors, manufactured from the recalled beef trimmings. All products covered by this update were still tied to the three production dates for beef trimmings of August 24th, 28th and September 5th.

September 21

Following more trace out activities, the CFIA issued a fifth updated Health Hazard Alert identifying more products, from secondary processors, manufactured from the recalled beef trimmings. All products covered by this update were still tied to the three production dates for beef trimmings of August 24th, 28th and September 5th.

From the ongoing data review, the CFIA concluded that there were two additional production dates – August 27 and 29 – where risks were assessed as higher for E. colicontamination. On the same day FSIS called CFIA to express concerns about these same two production dates based on the data CFIA had shared with them.

Based on this conclusion, XL Foods Inc. began to notify its customers in Canada and US that it was recalling beef trimmings produced on August 27th and 29th.

September 22

The CFIA issued a new Health Hazard Alert identifying products related to the two additional days of production – August 27th and 29th – from secondary processors.

September 24

Alberta Health Services advised CFIA that there was no link between one of the illnesses that it was investigating and the product produced by XL Foods. Alberta Health Services, supported by CFIA, continued its investigation into the other illnesses in Alberta.

FSIS advised CFIA of a positive E. coli 0157:H7 sample in California taken from trimming made from beef produced by XL Foods on August 27th. CFIA had already recalled beef trim from this production date.

September 25

The CFIA issued a second updated Health Hazard Alert identifying more products affected by this recall. All products covered by this expansion were tied to the two production dates for beef trimmings of August 27th and 29th.

Alberta Health Services advised CFIA that it had linked 4 illnesses to steaks purchased at a Costco store in Edmonton. The steaks originated from XL Foods but were further processed at the Costco store. It has not been established where the contamination occurred. Alberta Health Services is conducting an investigation in Costco supported by CFIA.

CFIA sought a health risk assessment from Health Canada which resulted in a recall of steaks from that particular store.

September 26

FSIS issued a public health alert related to the positive sample found on September 24 in California and begins discussions with CFIA on possible additional measures. At this point it was not clear where and when the contamination occurred.

September 27

The CFIA announces that it has temporarily suspended the licence to operate Establishment 38 – XL Foods Inc., in Brooks, Alberta. The CFIA determined that adequate controls for food safety were not fully implemented in the facility. The CFIA identified a number of deficiencies during an in-depth review of the facility. To date, the company had not adequately implemented the agreed-upon corrective actions and did not present acceptable plans to address longer-term issues.

All products currently at this plant are under CFIA detention and control. These products will only be released after being tested for E. coli O157:H7. The company has also expanded its voluntary recall to include raw meat produced on August 24, 27, 28, 29 and September 5.

The CFIA will continue to immediately alert consumers as these additional products are identified. This will lead to a series of public alerts over the next few days as implicated products and processed products that contain them are identified and traced.

XL Foods Inc. will not resume operations until the CFIA is fully confident in the plant’s capacity to effectively manage food safety risks.

Information about the recall

Are there any illnesses related to this recall?

To date, there have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these recalled products.

Where were the recalled products distributed?

The recalled products were distributed to grocery stores, hotels, restaurants and institutions within certain provinces and in some cases nationally. For a list of products and their distribution. Please refer to the recall notice on the CFIA website at inspection.gc.ca/recalls_XLFoods.

If consumers are unsure if they have affected products they should check with the store where they were purchased their meat.

Why does the CFIA continue to issue expanded alerts?

Recall investigations are driven by three considerations: accuracy, thoroughness and expediency.

When dealing with potentially unsafe food, the CFIA needs to be sure that it has the right products identified and all products identified. This can be a time consuming process. It involves securing and analyzing production and distribution records, which are often extensive and contained in various sources. It can also entail locating appropriate food samples and conducting tests. At the retail level, it can entail reviewing labels, distribution information and identification codes so that consumer can be properly informed of products at risk. Balancing the need to have reliable information with the need to inform the public as soon as possible means that the CFIA regularly alerts consumers of recalled product while investigations are still ongoing. With this approach, several public alerts may be issued for the same recall.

These recall expansions are common because today’s food suppliers have developed intricate webs of distribution.

With this recall, some of the affected products were sent to other distributors before going to retailers meaning affected products could be processed further to make other meat products such as patties or sausages. Also, some of the affected ground beef products that were shipped to small retailers and local meat markets were re-packaged leaving them unlabelled and/or unbranded.

The CFIA continues to work with XL Foods Inc. to collect information from suppliers, distributors and retailers to identify where affected product has been distributed.

How much product has been recalled?

For specific information on the volume of the meat that has been recalled, contact XL Food Inc. by phone at 403-501-2596 or by email at mediainformation@xlfoods.com.

Information about Establishment 38 – XL Foods

If there are controls in place at this plant, how did this happen?

The CFIA’s in-depth review of the plant determined that there was no single factor that would lead to E. coli O157:H7 contamination of product leaving the plant. The combination of several deficiencies probably played a role. By themselves, each of these findings would not typically signal an immediate concern during the course of normal inspection activities.

Deficiencies were identified by the CFIA in the areas of E. coli O157:H7 control measures and sampling and testing procedures.

The detection of E. coli in slaughter facilities is not uncommon, and plants need to have adequate measures in place to monitor higher than normal detection rates and modify control measures accordingly.

Establishment 38 had monitoring measures in place but was not properly conducting trend analysis of the data it collected. The CFIA review found that the plant needs to improve its trend analysis and also stengthen its response measures when a higher than normal number of detections are made.

In addition, the company’s control measures for meat that tested positive for E. coliO157:H7 were not always being followed correctly. While containers of meat testing positive for E. coli O157:H7 were properly handled, a small number of containers produced immediately before and after the contaminated product were not always diverted from the fresh meat line. This process, known as bracketing, is an established food safety control.

The company’s maintenance plan required updating in order to address minor sanitary issues, mostly related to the older age of the building. The CFIA detected issues related to adequate control of condensation and ventilation issues. These specific deficiencies are not likely related to the E. coli O157:H7 contamination.

How many inspectors does the CFIA have at XL Foods, Inc. and how many inspectors does the CFIA have overall?

The CFIA currently has 40 inspectors and 6 veterinarians assigned full-time to the XL Foods, Inc. plant in Brooks, Alberta providing systematic inspection and oversight. They work in two shifts to ensure full coverage whenever the plant is operating. There have been no changes to the existing staffing levels at XL Beef in the last 12 months. In fact, since 2006 we have added 2 veterinarians and six inspectors to the plant complement.

Since March 2006, field inspection staff increased by 711 from 2,823 to 3,534 in March 2012, approximately 25 per cent.

The term “field inspection staff” covers front-line inspectors and inspection managers who work in food processing plants, import service centres and field offices across the country. This includes food inspectors for meat as well as inspectors who specialize in food safety investigations.

What are the CFIA’s next steps at Establishment 38 – XL Foods Inc.?

The CFIA has temporarily suspended the licence to operate Establishment 38 – XL Foods Inc., in Brooks, Alberta. The CFIA determined that adequate controls for food safety were not fully implemented in the facility. The CFIA identified a number of deficiencies during an in-depth review of the facility. To date, the company had not adequately implemented the agreed-upon corrective actions and did not present acceptable plans to address longer-term issues.

All products currently at this plant are under CFIA detention and control. These products will only be released after being tested for E. coli O157:H7. The company has also expanded its voluntary recall of raw meat produced on August 24, 27, 28, 29 and September 5.

The CFIA will continue to immediately alert consumers as these additional products are identified. This will lead to a series of public alerts over the next few days as implicated products and processed products that contain them are identified and traced.

XL Foods Inc. will not resume operations until the CFIA is fully confident in the plant’s capacity to effectively manage food safety risks.

Information for consumers

What is E. coli O157:H7?

E. coli O157:H7 is a bacteria that when consumed, may cause serious and potentially life-threatening illness. Food contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 may not look or smell spoiled.

What should consumers do about this recall?

Consumers are encouraged to check their fridge and/or freezer to see if they have the product in their home. To find out what products have been recalled, consumers should refer to the recalled products chart on the CFIA website.

I cooked ground beef that is part of this recall, is it safe to eat?

If you have already prepared and stored this meat (for example made chilli or spaghetti sauce), do not consume it. If you are unsure whether a product is part of the recall, the safest course of action is to throw it away: When in doubt, throw it out!

 

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