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Pressure Builds in Alberta to Reopen Canada’s XL Foods

Canada’s largest in history beef recall and the closure of the nation’s largest meat processing plant is putting unusual pressure on regulators to return the facility to service. As of Monday, it looked like the plan might have been working. But as of Monday night after the plant recalled even more beef products, that possibility has again been thrown into question.

Dr. Richard Arsenault, who heads the meat program for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA),  indicated Monday that it is only a matter of days before the plant XL plant re-opens.

Closure of  XL Foods in Brooks, Alberta and the newly expanded recall of beef products represents the loss of over one third of Canada’s entire beef production and it’s probably not possible to overestimate the pressure being brought to get the facility reopened.

XL Foods is owned by Nilsson Brothers Inc., a Canadian-owned company with a network of livestock-based businesses including auction marts, feedlots and cow-calf ranches throughout western Canada.

With those economic losses piling up, it is not surprising that all sorts of pressure is being brought upon the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the federal food safety agency that pulled the big processor’s license to make beef products.

So, Alberta’s Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson took reporters on a beef shopping trip on Saturday and on Sunday Alberta’s Prime Minister Alison Redford met with several Provincial ranchers.

“Our priority right now is to make sure people know Alberta beef is a safe product, ” said PM Redford.

The PM said she was standing behind Alberta ranchers and their beef products.

“We certainly have a circumstance right now with respect to one company that is having some challenges with respect to regulations, but there is Alberta beef that is being produced right across this province today that is safe to eat, ” she said.

“Let’s remember to cook it well and let’s ensure that as we move ahead that we get this plant reopened so that we can keep the economy moving and we can again have confidence in this terribly important product that we have.”

Alberta ranchers told the Prime Minister they are concerned about the FX closure occurring just as they begin to move a lot of cattle to market.   Canadian cattlemen are experiencing reduced prices just as consumer confidence is on the wane.

More than 300 XL products are now on the recall list.   Four of nine E coli cases in Alberta are linked to beef strips produced by XL Foods and sold at Costco and five others are under investigation.

Here’s how it developed:

August 23, 2012: Cattle are slaughtered at a plant in Brooks run by Edmonton-based XL Foods Inc. Beef slaughtered that day is later recalled.

August 24, 27, 28, 29, 2012: Beef is produced at the Brooks plant that is later recalled.

September 3, 2012: U.S. officials alert the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that beef from the Brooks plant has tested positive for E. coli 0157: H7 bacteria. Both agencies begin investigations.

September 4, 2012: E. coli is detected by CFIA and by U.S. border officials. No action is taken.

September 11 and 12, 2012: The CFIA is alerted of two more cases of E. coli that have been confirmed in meat crossing the U.S. border.

September 13, 2012: At the request of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Canada revokes the plant’s permit to export beef to the U.S.

September 16, 2012: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency sends out the first alert warning people not to eat, sell or serve 26 ground beef and ground-beef products sold at several major stores because they “may be contaminated with E. coli.” The alert says XL Foods Inc. voluntarily issued the recall although no reported illnesses have been linked to the recalled products.

September 17, 2012: The CFIA expands the voluntary recall to add 55 more ground beef and ground-beef products to the list of products recalled across Canada. All the products were manufactured at the Brooks plant.

September 18, 2012: The CFIA expands the recall to add 14 more products.

September 19, 2012: The CFIA adds 75 more products to the recalled list. XL Foods and its parent company, Edmonton-based Nilsson Bros., release a recorded statement saying XL Foods prides itself on providing safe and high quality beef products.

September 20, 2012: The CFIA adds 37 products to the recall. The United States Food Safety and Inspection Service issues a public health alert.

September 21, 2012: The CFIA adds 47 products to the recall. The United States Food Safety and Inspection Service updates its public-health alert.

September 22, 2012: The CFIA adds 10 products to the recall.

September 24, 2012: The CFIA issues a summary that says an in-depth review uncovered “several deficiencies” during an investigation into the slaughterhouse.

September 25, 2012: The CFIA adds 60 products to the recall. The U.S. recalls products distributed to California, Texas, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, Nebraska, Utah and Wisconsin. Alberta Health Services officials say they are investigating a total of eight E. coli cases, four in Edmonton, three in Calgary and one in central Alberta. Lab test results come in to Alberta Health Services at night that confirm the four Edmonton patients were infected by E. coli-tainted strip loin grilling steaks they bought at a northeast Edmonton Costco. Alberta Health Services notifies the CFIA about the test results.

September 26, 2012: Alberta Health Service officials announce that four people in Edmonton got sick from E. coli after eating Kirkland brand strip loin steaks purchased at a Costco outlet in Edmonton.  The CFIA recalls Kirkland brand beef steaks packaged and sold Sept. 4 to Sept. 7 from the Costco at 13650, 50th St. and a CFIA spokesman confirms the steaks were processed at the plant in Brooks. Top public health doctors in Alberta say they have asked Costco stores to stop using a meat-tenderizing machine that could push E. coli bacteria from the surface of meat inside, where it is protected from high cooking temperatures that kill the bacteria.  Also on this day, the United States Food Safety and Inspection Service expands its recall to cover 10 states.

September 27, 2012: Alberta Health Services confirms it is investigating a fourth case in Calgary of E. coli poisoning, bringing the total number of recent cases in Alberta to nine. The health authority is still investigating what caused E. coli poisoning in four Calgary patients and one central Alberta patient.

September 28, 2012: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announces that XL Foods Inc. in Brooks, Alta., suspends the packing facility’s operating license and says it won’t be able to resume operations until it implements corrective actions required by the agency.

September 30, 2012 – The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announces the 12 expansion of the recall of XL beef.

October 1, 2012 – CFIA again announces an expanded recall, this one including soup bones, beef tips, tenderized cubes and other products that were not previously on the recall list. The total number of recalled products now stands at over 1,000.

© Food Safety News
  • doc raymond

    The only date left off the list is the day Sec Vilsack announced that the US would no longer be testing Canadian beef at certain border crossings.

  • If consumers sickened by eating adulterated strip steaks from Costco sue for damages, whom should they sure? XL Foods, which introduced the pathogen into the meat supply, or Costco, which innocently and legally processed strips hosting invisible pathogens? Will we require Costco and all other victimized downstream further processors to irradiate or fully cook all meat? Costco’s customers want to purchase raw meat for them to cook at home or at a restaurant. They don’t want cooked meat. And, my guess is that the vast majority of consumers don’t want irradiated meat.
    Secondly, it wasn’t that long ago when officials of meat associations representing the major USA slaughter plants claimed that there has never been an instance when consumers were sickened by eating needle-tenderized steak. Well, this current recall is NOT the first documented case of sicknesses related to needle-tenderized steaks.
    John Munsell