The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has suspended the operating licence of XL Foods at the Alberta-based plant in Brooks that has been linked to several recalls of more than 250 beef products for fear of E. coli contamination.
Products at the plant are being held by the CFIA to be tested for the bacteria, the agency announced late Thursday night.
The plant will not be able to resume operations until corrective measures imposed by the CFIA have been undertaken.
XL Foods timeline
Sept. 3: Random testing at the U.S. border finds E. coli in a shipment from Alberta’s XL Foods. That shipment is placed on “hold,” as is standard policy, and triggers testing of the next 15 shipments from the company. Of those, two test positive.
Sept. 4: U.S. officials inform CFIA, which has also discovered E. coli through routine testing.
Sept. 12: CFIA is informed of two more positive E. coli tests in meat crossing the U.S. border.
Sept. 13: CFIA investigation team goes to the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta.
Sept. 16: CFIA issues first recall. In the following nine days, the recall is expanded six times as more information becomes available.
Sept. 25: U.S. bans import of beef from XL Foods.
Sept. 27: CFIA temporarily suspends XL Foods licence.
“The company took initial steps to ensure the safety of food being produced and at the time committed to additional steps to deal with all issues and prevent recurrence,” the agency said in a release.
“However, based on information provided by XL Foods Inc. on Sept. 26, as well as through CFIA inspector oversight, the CFIA has determined that these deficiencies have not been completely corrected. To date, the company has not adequately implemented agreed upon corrective actions and has not presented acceptable plans to address longer-term issues.”
XL Foods also expanded its voluntary recall to all raw meat produced on Aug. 24, 27, 28, 29 and Sept. 5, the CFIA said in a release. The agency said it will alert consumers as additional products are identified.
“This will lead to a series of recall announcements over the next few days as implicated products are identified and traced,” the CFIA said in a release.
Edmonton E. coli cases linked to steaks
Alberta Health Service officials announced earlier this week that four people in Edmonton got sick from E. coli aftereating Kirkland brand striploin steaks purchased at a Costco outlet in Edmonton.
The CFIA said the meat the steaks were made from came from the XL Foods plant, but health officials aren’t sure whether the E. coli was on the product or if it came from a metal meat tenderizing machine used at the Costco store.
The store has said it would no longer use the tenderizing machine.
More than 250 meat products have already been pulled from Canadian stores after the company initiated a voluntary recall.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which banned imports of beef from the company, extended its public health alert about beef from the company’s Lakeside plant to stores in 30 states, including retail giant Wal-Mart.
Products at XL Foods Inc. in Brooks, Alta., are currently under detention by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency until they can be tested for E. coli. (CBC)The Brooks, Alta., plant employs more than 2,200 unionized workers.
Brooks Mayor Martin Shields hopes the plant is up and running again soon, as it has a large payroll in the town.
“It’s obviously a situation where something needs to be cleaned up or done to get the licence reinstated, and I’m sure that XL beef will — as a company that’s worked hard to provide a good product — will do that.”
Health officials have reported nine E. coli cases in Alberta over the past week, but investigators are still trying to determine the source in five of them.
Recall questions in Parliament
The meat recall came up in the House of Commons during question period Thursday.
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae focused on the gap between the American border services detection on Sept. 4 and the recall notice on Sept. 16.
“Why did it take 12 days before a recall notice was put out by the Canadian government?” Rae asked.
NDP agriculture critic Malcolm Allen said Canadians are worried and blamed recent cuts to the CFIA for the late recall, saying “the lack of details is disturbing.”
“I doubt whether the minister knows Sept. 4 from Sept. 16, but what we do know is that American inspectors caught that contaminated meat, not Canadian inspectors, and that is a failure on the government’s part,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz denied that the cuts were to blame.
“Last night on a panel program [Allen] said there is absolutely no CFIA presence in that facility,” said Ritz. “He is absolutely wrong. There are 46 inspection staff in that facility, 20 per cent more than there were three years ago. That is some cut.”
Heritage Minister James Moore also shot back, saying it was the Liberals who had neglected Canada’s food inspection regime over ten years.
“It is very important that the Opposition members do understand and stop misleading Canadians with regard to both food safety and the government’s commitment to food safety,” said Moore.
“We have increased our investment and ensured that we have more inspectors. In fact, 700 more inspectors are on the job now than when we formed government.”