BROOKS, Alberta – After announcing the layoff of 2,000 workers the day before, XL Foods Inc. announced on Oct. 14 it planned to retain 800 employees to move forward with a food safety review that was delayed over the weekend.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) allowed XL Foods to process beef carcasses under strict conditions so that the agency could assess the facility’s E. coli safeguards under processing conditions. But on Oct. 13, the agency said it was unable to complete the review.
“On Friday and Saturday, we oversaw the cutting of carcasses in the plant that had tested negative for E. coli by the CFIA. We need to observe the plant's E. coli controls in action, so this activity is a critical element in our assessment of the company's E. coli safeguards,” the agency said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the company decided to stop operations after only cutting about half the carcasses. At this time, we are unable to complete our assessment.”
XL Foods announced the temporary layoff of 2,000 employees on Oct. 13. In a news release, the company said the layoffs were necessary because the CFIA could not definitively say when the plant could resume full operations. The agency suspended the company’s operations license on Sept. 27. A strain of bacteria linked to beef processed at the plant has sickened 15 people in four provinces.
“We are ready to continue our assessment as soon as the company resumes activities,” CFIA said. “We recognize that the company wants to return to normal operations as soon as possible, but the CFIA has a responsibility to assure consumers that the plant can produce safe food.”
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz expressed condolences for the workers impacted by XL Foods’ decision, but stood by the CFIA.
“Consumer confidence is critical for Canada's beef industry, and that's why we won't compromise when it comes to the safety of Canadians' food,” Ritz said in a statement.
“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's food safety inspectors are working diligently to ensure that all safety issues at the Brooks plant are corrected,” he added. “Today's news does not change our government's commitment to ensuring safe food for Canadian consumers.”
XL Foods then announced the employee recall, and said it was necessary to satisfy the conditions of the company's temporary license to demonstrate the implementation of enhanced food safety protocols.
"We look forward to actively working with CFIA to bring this to a viable and timely resolution to allow the plant to recommence operations," said Brian Nilsson, co-CEO of XL Foods.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will audit the CFIA for the first time in three years, according to news reports in Canada. The visit will include a stop at the XL Foods plant in Brooks. Officials with the CFIA said the audit had been planned for months and was not prompted by the recall of beef products produced at the plant. Canada suspended the company’s permit to export beef to the US on Sept. 13 at the request of FSIS.
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