Union claims XL Foods not addressing food safety issues
Published Tuesday, October 9, 2012 8:58AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 9, 2012 8:05PM EDT
The union representing workers at the Alberta meat processing plant involved in a massive E. coli-related beef recall claims the company is refusing to address food safety problems at the facility.
Doug O’Halloran, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said in a news release Tuesday that the union has been raising concerns “for years” about operations at XL Foods’ Brooks, Alta. plant.
“Cleanliness and safety need to be the priorities when it comes to the food that is being put on Canadian tables,” he said. “We’ve dealt with other CEOs in the meatpacking industry, but we’ve never come across anyone who wouldn’t at least meet with us to talk about food safety.”
But in its own statement Tuesday, XL Foods said the plant has corrected problems that led to the facility’s temporary shutdown last month.
XL Foods co-CEO Brian Nilsson said Tuesday the company has “worked diligently” to implement all the corrective actions required by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency since production was suspended at the plant on Sept. 27.
Those actions include “enhanced” record keeping and food safety protocols, Nilsson said in a news release.
He also welcomed CFIA’s detailed inspection of the Brooks, Alta., plant, which began Tuesday.
O’Halloran said the union has longstanding concerns about “temporary foreign workers, line speed and the need for whistleblower protection.”
He also said that XL Foods employees are “going to be back at work in a few days,” but did not provide details in the release.
The union has scheduled a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Brooks.
More than 1,800 beef products have been recalled following the discovery of E. coli at the facility.
Public health officials have linked 11 E. coli illnesses in four provinces to the same strain of bacteria found at the plant.The latest case was confirmed in British Columbia on Monday. Officials say that person has recovered.
“All the members of the XL community deeply regret the illnesses caused by the consumption of beef products. Our thoughts are with the affected people at this time,” Nilsson said in his statement.
The CFIA says Tuesday’s inspection does not necessarily mean the XL Foods plant’s licence to operate will be reinstated. Based on what they observe, inspectors will make a recommendation to CFIA senior officials. The plant will only reopen if employees demonstrate that they can properly manage food safety risks.
But former CFIA inspector Bob Jackson said he expects the plant to reopen “pretty soon.”
“I would look at (the inspection) as a pre-opening, where they’re trying to make some final checks and balances in the system that’s in place to see when that plant can reopen,” he told CTV News Channel Tuesday.
The CFIA issued a “corrective action request” -- or a request for changes -- to XL Foods after observing issues related to the management, sanitation and maintenance of the plant.
Inspectors noted that some fridges weren’t being cleaned regularly, there were clogged water nozzles in the carcass washing area and a “foul odour” was coming from a drain.
The massive beef recall initially affected retailers in Canada and the United States. Last week, meat products from XL Foods were located in Hong Kong and subsequently recalled.
In the meantime, the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service has almost tripled its initial estimate of products imported from the XL Foods plant to 1,340,000 kilograms of beef.
XL Foods exported to more than 20 countries, according to the CFIA.
Opposition parties and critics have been calling on Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to resign, while others say a thorough review of CFIA food inspection practices is necessary to prevent tainted meat from landing on store shelves in the future.
Jackson said CFIA should order an in-depth review of all of its programs because “very little oversight by a third party…is a recipe for disaster.”