Limited operations approved for plant
OTTAWA—The Alberta plant at the centre of an E. coli scare is being allowed to resume limited operations.
But the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said no meat will leave the XL Foods meat packer in Brooks until the agency has approved a full re-opening.
“This will allow the CFIA to review, in a controlled manner, the company’s improvements made to all previously-addressed deficiencies.”
The plant was shut down Sept. 27 during an ever-expanding recall of its beef products across Canada and more than 20 other countries, including the United States.
Kochhar said the plant has been cleaned and sanitized, and condensation, drainage, and ice build-up also have been addressed.
But the union for workers at the packing house has said problems go deeper than that.
Doug O’Halloran told a news conference yesterday that the pace of slaughter operations forces workers to take shortcuts around cleanliness and puts the health of beef-eating Canadians at risk.
O’Halloran, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said the processing line at XL Foods moves too quickly.
“You can replace all the aluminum, all the stainless steel you want at the plant, but if you don’t give your workers the tools to perform the job properly, we’re not going to solve this problem,” he stressed.
Some 300-320 carcasses go by workers every hour, and employees make between 3,000 and 4,000 cuts a shift.
That has resulted in less time in which to make sure knives are sanitized after each cut, the union president said.
O’Halloran wants a public inquiry into the problems that led to the plant’s shutdown.
O’Halloran also cited other examples of poor hygiene at the plant.
He said cattle are supposed to be washed before they enter to ensure their fur is free of manure. But sometimes the water is not hot enough to get off all the excrement.
He also said excrement from the cattle has backed up on the killing floor at times, and forced workers to traipse through the waste and track it through the plant.
O’Halloran said the plant’s increasing reliance on temporary foreign workers also is a problem.
The company has not worked with the union to ensure the workers are properly-trained and know what their rights are, he added.
The union boss said whistleblower protection is needed for workers who are afraid to speak out about problems for fear of reprisal.
XL Foods CEO Brian Nilsson could not be reached for comment but issued a news release yesterday saying the company has an open-door policy for its workers and always has welcomed their input on plant operations.
“We have extensive training programs for new workers and hold our workers in the highest regard for their abilities,” he noted.
Nilsson added XL runs its line speeds at less than industry average for a plant of its size.