The food-borne illness outbreak and subsequent recall of beef products traced to the Brooks, Alberta, XL Foods plant last September wasn’t pretty.
As a result of the distribution of beef contaminated with pathogenic E. coli, some 4,000 tons of beef were recalled—the largest beef recall in Canadian history. A total of 18 people across Canada became ill and the plant was eventually closed down amid a loud and angry outcry from both the public and the media.
The outrage may be subsiding-the operative word being “maybe.”
Now under the ownership of JBS Canada,which took ownership in January, significant changes to the troubled plant have been completed, according to a CBC News report. About 60 different inspections have been conducted in the last few months, according to JBS Canada, and the plant is now shipping meat to Canadian, U.S. and Asian customers.
Officials with JBS Canada said that the facility had undergone more than 60 inspections in the last six months. And when a group of Canadian business and community leaders got to tour the “new” plant last week, the reviews were generally upbeat.
“I noticed fairly quickly there was a more positive atmosphere,” David Swann, agriculture critic for the Alberta Liberal Party, told CBC News. “There's more openness among management, they are starting to consider giving me some numbers about real issues—like the amount of meat they are throwing out [and] the number of tests that are positive.”
Among other issues, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency launched an investigation into the plant’s carcass deboning techniques, microbial controls, sanitation and sampling techniques after it was discovered that the particular strain of E. coli implicated in the recall had not been seen before in either Canada or the United States.It was later made public that the CFIA had previously issued seven corrective action requests to the plant and was monitoring them before the agency decided to shut the plant down.
Buried within the story was another key point, perhaps even more telling than the 60-something CFIA inspections: JBS customers—including McDonald's—demanded more information on how the plant was operating, and in fact conducted their own investigations.
JBS officials told the media that while its food-safety procedures have improved, a drastic overhaul wasn’t required.
“If you want to say there’s a super-dramatic change, no,” Willie Van Solkema, who leads the Canadian division of JBS, told CBC. “They've changed slightly, but we make sure that we are auditing ourselves and that we are doing what we say we are going to do when it comes to food safety.”