Food safety group defends handling of tainted-beef scare
OTTAWA—There was no initial reason to order a public recall or shut down the XL Foods meat-packing facility in Brooks, Alta. that’s at the centre of a widening tainted-beef scare, food safety officials in Ottawa are insisting.
When testing in the U.S. and Canada first detected a possible E. coli issue in the plant on Sept. 4, there was nothing to indicate any tainted meat had reached store shelves, said Canadian Food Inspection Agency official Brian Evans.
“We did confirm that neither the product that we had found through our testing program or the product that the U.S. had identified . . . had gone into the marketplace,” he noted.
“Issuing a recall for a product that isn’t in the public domain isn’t something that we’re able to do.”
It took more days of ongoing investigation and testing before CFIA concluded that it needed to shut the plant.
Evans said further information on Sept. 10 triggered an “intensive, in-depth review” that included sending a team of specialists into the plant to search for a possible problem.
Ongoing daily testing during that period did not reveal anything “to suggest that the product was of a significant concern,” Evans added.
“We were 24 hours, pedal-to-the-metal, in the plant through the [Sept. 15-16] weekend trying to satisfy ourselves that consumers were not being put at risk,” he stressed.
XL Foods has had its operating licence temporarily suspended and won’t resume operations until it has taken the steps necessary to ensure its products are free of E. coli.
Evans said the problem appears to be the result of a number of different factors, none of which would by themselves normally pose a problem but combining to create a heightened risk.
He said XL Foods has not yet taken the steps necessary to allow it to resume operations, and won’t be allowed to do so until it does.
Evans said all products currently at the plant are “under CFIA detention and control,” and will be released only after being tested for E. coli.
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended its public health alert about the company’s beef to stores in 30 states, including retail giant Walmart.
Since Sept. 16, the CFIA has issued at least eight recall alerts for XL Foods ground beef products over E. coli concerns.