Stricken Brooks plant to open Oct. 29: JBS USA

by Bryan Salvage
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BROOKS, Alberta – JBS USA plans reopen the Brooks, Alberta-based XL Foods Inc. beef processing plant it recently started managing — which was subject to a massive beef recall and temporary closure due to E. coli O157:H7 fears — on Monday, Oct. 29. The announcement was made by Cameron Bruett, chief sustainability officer and head of corporate communications, JBS USA, during an Oct. 25 media conference at the Heritage Inn Hotel and Convention Centre in Brooks, Alberta.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Brazil-based JBS SA, JBS USA announced on Oct. 18 it had reached an agreement with XL Foods, effective immediately, to manage its XL Lakeside beef plant.

“We also negotiated an exclusive option to purchase additional XL properties in the near future should we vie to exercise that option,” Bruett said.

Bruett announced a six-point JBS USA plan regarding the future of this facility:

1. JBS USA plans to conduct a top-to-bottom assessment of the Brooks facility, which has already begun. During the past week, JBS USA members from its risk-management team, food-safety technical services, IT and other senior officials from the company, combed through that plant to understand its current food-safety capabilities, the capabilities of its work force and their ability to implement JBS USA’s food-safety plan going forward to ensure product safety.

2. Robust workforce training is underway. “Every employee, supervisor — anyone affiliated with that plant will go through both worker and food-safety training prior to being able to return to the workplace,” Bruett said. “That training is ongoing. It started yesterday and will complete Friday, which takes about four hours in total. In addition, we’ll have about nine more hours of training for all of those employees.” The company will continue to train its employees in food safety as necessary, he added.

3. There will be an independent audit and review of the plant and food-safety plan conducted by the International HACCP Alliance. Dr. Kerri Harris, of Texas A&M Univ. in College Station, Texas, serves as the executive director of the organization, and she will conduct an audit of the facility on Oct. 29. She will also audit the facility’s food-safety plan going forward. Harris also served on the JBS USA Food Safety and Quality Advisory Council, formed in 2009. The council consists of premier scientists in the US who provided counsel and guidance on JBS USA’s food-safety programs.

“They continually review and audit our programs for improvement and provide counseling advice on how we can have the best, robust food-safety systems possible in all of our facilities,” Bruett said. “They will be active here as well as in our Canadian operations.” JBS USA will also be looking for Canadian experts to serve on that panel and supplement this work.

4. Bruett iterated JBS USA intends to reopen the facility on Oct. 29. “We were able to obtain a license to operate the facility on [Oct. 23]”, Bruett said. There are several requirements that are included in that license. We are currently working with our partners at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to understand those requirements and make sure we can accomplish the tenants set forth in that license. We feel we are very close to achieving that outcome.”

5. Stakeholder engagement. “We look to partner not only with [industry, provincial and local government] individuals, but with the union, our workforce, government regulators and other regarded political officials to ensure the path we have constructed going forward is one that is in the best interest of the Canadian consumer, the Canadian beef industry and to all stakeholders and partners,” Bruett said. “We feel it’s incredibly important that we all tackle this issue together so we can identify a resolution that will benefit everyone — that will result in safe product on the plates of consumers across the world.”

6. Transparency. JBS USA intends to share the latest information, as appropriate, to keep the media and public abreast of all the activities relating to this facility in going forward.

Bill Rupp, president and CEO of JBS USA's North America and Australia beef business, said he is confident about the future of the Brooks plant. “We’re going to have confidence we can run the plant and do it to the best of our ability and meet [Canadian inspection] guidelines, as well as or own internal guidelines,” he added.

Rupp said he has had great conversations with the Canadian cattlemen and had met some great local community leaders. “We’re interacting with our employees now,” he added in reference to the Brooks facility. “We’ve interacted with our management team. We have had a lot of good dialog about where we intend to go with this business. At this point, it’s pretty simple for us: our focus is on getting this plant up and going.

“We think that’s critical to our employees in providing food-safe products for the Canadian as well as the world plate,” he iterated. “We think it’s important for our partners in the cattle industry to give them a venue to get their cattle harvested and to the marketplace. Once it’s up and running and we have it very well controlled and feel confident with the controls we have, we’ll shift that focus to completing the acquisition.”

Rupp relayed JBS USA is excited about the acquisition. “We think the acquisition is a great addition to our North American portfolio of plants,” Rupp said. “We have eight plants in the US positioned strategically throughout the country. [The Lakeside] plant will offer us great opportunities. I believe it’s a North American market...not a US and a Canadian market. It’s a North American consumer. We find consumers are very similar, have similar expectations on both sides of the parallel.”

Once the plant is started and the acquisition is complete, then JBS USA’s focus will turn towards how to assimilate all of this, Rupp said. “How do we put it together with the other eight pieces we have and our sales offices worldwide and operations in Australia?” he questioned. “How do we put this all together to be the best global beef services company there is? It’s really an exciting time for us!”

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