BROOKS, Alta.—Management at the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., was warned several times about problems in the plant before an E. coli outbreak that caused one of the biggest meat recalls in Canadian history.
Documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show that Canadian Food Inspection Agency staff issued six warnings about conditions in the plant between January and September 2012.
They detailed problems spotted by inspectors and required XL Foods to take action to correct the issues.
The plant was involved in a massive beef recall in September, where more than 1,800 items were pulled from shelves in Canada and the U.S. due to E. coli contamination.
Several people became sick after eating the contaminated beef.
Some of the problems identified in the documents include improper sanitization of equipment, condensation dripping onto carcasses, flaking paint and rust on walls and beams and plastic containers overflowing with unsanitary water.
“That stuff shouldn’t exist if you’ve got people that are trained and know what they’re doing,” said Bob Jackson, a former CFIA meat inspector who is currently with the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
“In my mind, when I look at a stack of reports like that, it tells me that the company is not living up to its end of the bargain.”
Problems should be spotted and corrected before they come to the attention of inspectors, he said.
“They’re supposed to look after this stuff. They’re supposed to see condensation dripping from a rail or something, they’re supposed to see that and correct it without the CFIA inspector having to go in there and do that.”
However, the CFIA said in a plant the age and size of XL, it was not an unusual number of warnings.
“It is typically very normal to have around that many … in six months or eight months of their production,” said Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, CFIA’s executive director of western operations.
All of the problems indicated in the reports were solved by plant staff to the satisfaction of CFIA inspectors before the first cases of E. coli were found in beef produced at the XL Foods plant in September 2012.
JBS Canada, a subsidiary of a Brazilian-based agri-food giant, took over management of XL Foods in October after the E. coli outbreak.
It has received clearance from the provincial government to formally purchase the company.