OTTAWA – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will be conducting a detailed assessment on Tuesday of the Alberta processing plant at the heart of a massive tainted beef recall.
The review follows a written request from XL Foods Inc. to have its license reinstated after it was revoked in late September due to deficiencies in its operations.
A slew of problems was uncovered following the discovery of E.coli in meat products from the Brooks, Alta., facility, which led to the recall of hundreds of products around the world and public outcry over why that recall took so long to be issued.
This week’s assessment won’t necessarily green-light the plant to re-open, CFIA officials said in a conference call late Monday afternoon.
“This is a pre-resumption of operation inspection, in no way it should be construed as they will be in production at this point,” said Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, the executive director of Western operations for the food agency.
Kochhar said re-opening the plant would be a gradual process that begins with determining whether the plant has addressed all the issues raised by inspectors since E. coli was first detected.
They include maintenance and sanitation issues as well as the management of E.coli risk.
“We will walk through the establishment, make sure the corrective action plans have been implemented, the food safety controls are there and after that we will make a recommendation to senior CFIA officials to go progressively to the next step,” he said.
That would include walking through the plant again when it resumes limited operations to ensure that changes have in fact been made, he said.
There was no answer at the plant’s media relations line late Monday, except for a statement recorded last week saying the company was working with CFIA officials.
All products at the plant will remain under CFIA’s control during the review.
E. coli was first detected at the plant on Sept. 4 but it took 12 days for the first of an ever-expanding series of public alerts to be issued while food inspectors scrutinized the plant’s operations.
That ultimately led to the plant’s license being suspended on Sept. 27.
The number of illnesses linked to beef products from the plant stands at 11 people from four provinces, with the latest case confirmed on Monday in British Columbia.
That individual has since recovered, public health officials said.
The CFIA said Monday that the XL plant exported to over 20 countries and products from all of them are on their way back.
The Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety posted a statement on its website saying a small portion of affected products have been distributed to retailers there.
Kochhar said Sunday that in addition to Canadian audits, the plant has undergone eight foreign audits over the last four years by countries which buy its products.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials now say the amount of recalled beef imported from the XL plant is almost triple the original estimate.
The US Food Safety Inspection Service estimates at least 1.1 million kilograms of beef from XL Foods entered their country.
The CFIA also added more products to its list of recalls on Sunday, including raw beef and ready-to-eat products sold in B.C under the Africa Trading and HanAhReum Mart brands, or sold at Urban Fare.
The federal government has come under fire for its handling of the E. coli scare.
There have been questions raised by opposition politicians and others about whether the food safety system is working and whether there are enough inspectors after government funding cuts.
The government says it has actually increased the number of food inspectors and strengthened protections.