Meat and Poultry Industry News

XL Foods to begin limited operations, union claims food safety problems remain

October 12, 2012
KEYWORDS E. coli / XL foods
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Despite assurances from XL Foods that the problems that led to a massive recall of beef have been fixed, the plant’s union is stating that there are still problems in the Brooks, Alberta facility. Doug O’Halloran, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said there is a “desperate need” for an improved culture of food safety at the plant, reports The Globe And Mail.

“Workers at XL Foods in Brooks want to be part of the solution,” he said in a news release. “They’re going to be back at work in a few days, but nothing has been done to address the issues that led to this problem.”

Some of the issues include training for temporary foreign workers, line speed and a need to protect whistleblowers.

The plant has been closed since September 26. While inspectors from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have conducted a pre-inspection of the plant, there is no set date for the reopening of the facility.

On Tuesday, Brian Nilsson, CEO of XL Foods, said the meat packer has taken all of the actions demanded by the CFIA.

Problems cited by the CFIA include: Refrigerators were not being cleaned according to the company’s own specifications; a drain was emitting a foul odor; sanitizer was dripping onto product; the evisceration table thermometer was not functioning properly; some employees were not wearing beard nets; employees were sorting trimmed beef and then touching contaminated meat without following the appropriate washing procedures.

In addition, the company’s own control plan was not fully implemented or regularly updated. There was a lack of written direction provided to employees about the steps to be followed after a positive test for E. coli; positive samples were inconsistently analyzed to detect trends; there were deficiencies in sampling techniques and there was insufficient record-keeping.

Harpreet Kochhar, the executive director of western operations for the Canadian Food Inspection agency (CFIA), told reporters on Thursday that the agency will allow XL Foods in Brooks, to proceed to the next stage of a review process.

“Beginning today, XL Foods will be permitted to resume limited in-house cutting and further processing under strict, enhanced oversight,” said Dr. Kocchar. “The plant will not be permitted to resume normal operations until the CFIA confirms in writing that it is safe to do so.”

More than 5,000 beef carcasses have been sitting untouched in the plant since the plug was pulled. More than 99 per cent of those carcasses have tested negative for the bacteria and they can now be processed under the eye of food inspectors.

“This will enable CFIA experts to carefully observe the plant’s food safety controls in action,” said Dr. Kocchar.

But, he said, the meat will remain under CFIA detention and the product will not be allowed to leave the premises until the agency has confirmed to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz that the plant controls are effectively managing E. coli risks. If the inspectors note any problems with the food-safety controls, the plant’s license to operate will again be suspended, said Dr. Kocchar.

Source: The Globe And Mail

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