by SUSAN MANN
One of Canada’s largest beef processing facilities is back in business. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency reinstated the operating license Tuesday for the XL Foods Inc. plant in Brooks, Alberta following a 25-day temporary suspension.
Paul Mayers, CFIA associate vice president, programs, also announced during a technical briefing from Ottawa Tuesday that CFIA is convening an expert advisory committee to review all events and circumstances related to the investigation surrounding E. coli 0157:H7 contaminated beef at XL Foods Inc.
The committee will include experts from academia and the private sector. Its report will be made public, Mayers says.
Dennis Laycraft, executive vice president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, says it will be a few days yet before beef farmers can start shipping cattle to the Brooks, Alberta plant. “Obviously we’re very pleased we’re at the point now where the plant can begin to start operating.”
The plant closure didn’t impact Ontario producers. LeaAnne Wuermli, spokesperson for the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, says Ontario cattle are processed in the province or the United States and Ontario producers’ prices weren’t affected by the closure. But she has been fielding calls and web requests for information from consumers concerned about beef’s safety and wanted to avoid XL Foods products.
But E. coli can happen anywhere, at any time and isn’t specific to one location, she says.
In response to concerns from the public, Wuermli says “we’ve been trying to educate consumers about proper food handling and that type of thing.”
She says many of the people contacting Ontario Cattlemen’s were looking to source Ontario beef.
The CFIA suspended the XL Foods plant’s license Sept. 27 after the company failed to implement mandatory corrective actions to deal with E. coli 0157:H7. There are 16 cases of illness in four Canadian provinces related to beef from the XL Foods plant. None of them are in Ontario.
JBS USA, a leading animal protein processor in the Untied States and Australia, took over management of the plant on Oct. 17. JBS USA is a wholly owned subsidiary of Brazil-based JBS S.A., the world’s largest protein processor. It has an exclusive option to buy XL Foods’ Canadian and United States-based operations.
Mayers says the agency completed a thorough assessment of food safety controls at XL Foods and “based on a full range of observations and testing we are confident that all issues have been fully addressed.”
The agency “will take the added precaution of maintaining enhanced inspection” of slaughter and processing at the plant for the foreseeable future, he says.
The increased vigilance includes stepping up the frequency of inspection at certain production stages and increasing E. coli testing. All products will be held until all E. coli test results have been assessed.
“If concerns are identified at any point, CFIA inspectors will immediately halt operations,” Mayers says.
Prior to XL Foods’ temporary license suspension, a voluntary recall was launched Sept. 16 with the company recalling ground beef, muscle cuts and other beef products made on five production days – Aug. 24, 27, 28, 29 and Sept. 5. The recall was expanded several times and included an estimated 1,800 products from stores across Canada, the United States and overseas. The United States closed the border to products from XL Foods on Sept. 13.
The plant has the capacity to process 4,000 head a day. Mayers couldn’t say how long it will take XL Foods to reach the normal line speed.
Laycraft says the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association knows “the interventions that are in that plant and we know the philosophy of JBS and we think it will get back to normal within a reasonable period of time and consequently bring some normalcy back to the industry.”
JBS USA officials couldn’t be reached for comment. BF