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Canada’s Meat Inspectors Told to Ignore Messy Carcasses Not Bound for Japan

Canada’s CTV News went public with a four-year-old memorandum from the troubled XL Foods beef plant that told meat inspectors to turn a blind eye to fecal and intestinal contamination on carcasses—except for the beef headed for Japan.

The memo issued to inspectors by a meat hygiene supervisor at the Brooks, Alberta beef plant said Japan is “our number 1 priority.” Issued on Sept. 12, 2008, the memo instructed meat inspectors stationed at the carcass inspection post to “ensure than non Japan carcasses are not inspected for spinal cord/duramater, OCD (other carcass defects) and minor ingesta (ignore them).”

CTV obtained the memo from the union representing meat inspectors at the beef plant, now managed by the Greeley,CO-based JBS, USA. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said the same stringent food safety standards were imposed on meat for both domestic consumption and for export.

CFIA said required inspection tasks are accomplished at different stations. “The memo referenced simply emphasized this division of labor,” CFIA said in a statement issued Thursday in reaction of the CTV report.

The agency said the union raised the issue three weeks ago and it was clarified with the meat inspectors. However, Agriculture Union President Bob Kingston took issue with the explanation that carcass contaminates could be detected further down the line. He said the memo referenced “the last inspection station on the line.”

Earlier this year, an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 linked to beef sickened 18 Canadians and was accompanied by the largest beef recall in the country’s history, causing XL Foods to give up management of the Alberta plant to JBS.

On CTV, Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, CFIA’s executive director for western operations, suggested that decontamination showers with antimicrobial sprays would also be a back-up step if something were missed. Inspectors said that works for non-visible bacteria, but not feces and intestinal splatter.

The XL recall was extended to include 2.5 million pounds shipped to the United States. It was then blocked from further export to the U.S. No illnesses associated with the Brooks plants have surfaced outside Canada.

© Food Safety News
  • Worriedyet

    Wake to HIMP and HACCP at its Best.

  • johnmunsell

    This revelation should not shock us in the least.  In Oct 2002, a coalition of the Community Nutrition Institute, Government Accountability Project and Public Citizen sent a letter to then-USDA Sec Ann Veneman objecting to the contents of the now-infamous “Kansas Fecal Letter”, which mandated essentially the same lack of inspection undersight from the Kansas Inspection team.  One pertinent sentence from their letter was “The [FSIS] instructions repeatedly state that stopping the production line is to be avoided at all costs and that the inspectors themselves will be held responsible for lost production if the company challenges their action”.  End quote.  A company challenge is automatic!  Therefore, you inspectors wear blinders.
    Ahh, the beauty of harmonized global deregulation of the large meat packers!
    However, perhaps the most diabolical segment of this scenario is the fact that CFIA & FSIS are indifferent to the presence of visible fecal on carcasses because “carcass contaminates could be detected further down the line”, as Dan Flynn states above.  As stated above, CFIA’s ex director suggested that “decontamination showers with antimicrobial sprays would also be a back-up if something were missed”.  In layman terms, what do these agency admissions mean, and what are their implications?
    To their credit, the largest plants have invested millions into the development & implementation of numerous technological systems which are intended to produce carcasses free of pathogens.  This myriad of interventions is referred to as a “Multiple Hurdle Pathogen Intervention System”, allegedly capable of consistently producing safe meat.  Since the system has multiple pathogen hurdles, if one hurdle (aka an intervention) is overwhelmed and does not eliminate fecal contaminants, a subsequent downline hurdle (intervention) will remove the pathogen.  Therefore, because of the laudable variety of interventions, neither CFIA nor FSIS are concerned with visible pathogens on carcasses (let alone all the invisible pathogens), concluding that subsequent interventions will successfully eliminate the pathogens.  Interventions = panacea.
    This is part & parcel of USDA-style, and WTO-style HACCP, which is allegedly “science based” because HACCP requires microbial analyses of meat products.  The pre-HACCP style of meat inspection was organoleptically based, meaning that inspectors had to rely on the senses such as sight, smell, touch, etc.  The senses can’t detect invisible bacteria, as we discovered in the 1993 Jack In The Box outbreak, leading to USDA-style HACCP, which really does NOT qualify as TRUE HACCP……..but that’s another story.  Pre-HACCP meat inspection & production used very little microbial analyses.
    FSIS and the largest slaughter plants have criticized pre-HACCP inspection as being a mere “poke and sniff” organoleptic system.  Therefore, when FSIS threw out the senses (including common sense) in favor of occasional microbial sampling, the agency (& all global meat inspection regulatory agencies) threw the baby out with the bathwater.  In retrospect, we should have kept the senses, and coupled it with microbial sampling.  FSIS & WTO disagree, as does CFIA.
    Now we are barraged with our much ballyhooed “Multiple Hurdle Pathogen Intervention Systems”, which theoretically are the cat’s meow.  However, our ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls reveal that the cat is merely purring, while asleep, as in gov deregulation, as in HIMP.

    To fully comprehend FSIS’ & CFIA’s disregard for fecal-contaminated carcasses, read FSIS’ publication of “Compliance Guidelines for Establishments Sampling Beef Trimmings for Shiga Toxin-Producing Escherichia coli (STEC) Organisms or Virulence Markers” in May, 2012, a very recent publication.  On pages 8 & 9, FSIS discusses “High Event Periods”, or HEP’s.  When microbial analyses of boneless beef trimmings reveal a high incidence of adverse lab positives for STEC’s, the lab results might reveal a breakdown in the slaughter process or food safety system, which is called a High Event Day.  Worse than a bad hair day.  Well, what % of lab positives does FSIS allow, before the results might be considered a “systemic” HEP.  Hold onto your seats.  From page 9, 2 (A):  7 or more E.coli O157:H7 (or STEC organisms or virulence markers) positive results out of 30 consecutive samples from production lots containing sam-source materials”.  End quote.  7 out of 30 is 23.3% lab positives, after which FSIS “might” conclude a HEP has occurred.  6 out of 30, or “only” 20% positives, do not consitute a food safety problem for FSIS.  For plants which test more than 60 samples daily, the % of positives required before FSIS might conclude to be a HEP ranges from 8.7% up to 13.1%  On page 8 of the agency’s Compliance Guidelines, “FSIS selected a target of 5%”.  End quote.

    Therefore, since FSIS allows a plant to experience from 5% up to 13.1% fecal positives, one can readily understand why FSIS & CFIA are not concerned with visible fecal contamination of carcasses on a kill floor.  Page 14 of the Guidelines includes the statement “Note that these recommendations are not regulatory requirements”. 

    Somewhere, and I can’t find it, FSIS has stated that when a plant experiences a HEP, the agency’s District Office has 30 days to consider whether to implement enforcement actions against the plant.  Lots of STEC-contaminated meat can be shipped into commerce in 30 days.

    With these facts in mind, we can see why FSIS & CFIA are little concerned with fecal-contaminated carcasses on a kill floor. 

    Get used to it.

    John Munsell

    • Susan Rudnicki

       A  fine analysis—but eating meat has risk factors I don’t want “to get used to” and don’t need in my diet, as a 56 year old, anyway.    The entire system of decent food and land used for grain conversion into meat is so horrifically inefficient and rife with issues that I simply can’t see the point eating it.  

    • Oginikwe

      And this, Mr. Munsell, is why we started raising and butchering our own beef.   We just don’t like eating poop whether disguised, hidden, sterilized, chemicalized, or blantantly obvious.  But, no, consumers should not get used to, they should stop eating it for a week at a time until the industry seriously addresses these issues.  Until then, they can buy beef from home growers and participate in the slaughter and butchering if they so choose.  

  • Paul Coupland

    You would think
    that from a Systems Design Perspective that it would be better to get
    rid of all contamination at the beginning for all carcasses instead
    of trying to pick out the contamination from the carcass as it is being processed
    – holding up the assembly line!  Only in
    Canada, you say?  Hopefully we do not have
    a bunch of Meat-Heads running CFIA?  I
    prefer high-quality beef without any crap on it!  Perhaps we should be getting rid of all the
    crap at the top of the CFIA, before it kills us? The only way to re-gain public
    confidence in the Beef Industry is to kill the animals humanely & treat
    their carcasses with honor & dignity since they have paid the ultimate
    price to feed us!  This means to place
    Food Safety at the highest level possible – for the benefit of all – ranchers,
    workers & consumers – wherever they may live!

  • all i can say is disgusting
    how many more backroom instructions and memos are there that the public does not see – its quite obvious that the CFIA’s main position is to facilitate business for these meat facilities and NOT food safety or safety of the Canadian public.

  • husna

    This is one meat plant’s violations that has come to light. As recommended earlier, consumers need to wash the meat after purchase to decontaminate the product. 

  • husna

    An effective new sampling method adopted by the Food Industry is in the following link. The meat industry may benefit from adopting this technology.


  • johnmunsell

    Oginikwe, you are in the minority of Americans who have access to home growers of livestock, and have access to local slaughter/processing plants.  Just like me.  There are multiple millions in the big cities who have no idea how or where to purchase local beef.  And the majority of American women work fulltime outside the home, have no interest in cooking beef roasts, soup bones, stew etc from scratch.  They want convenience.  I recently purchased a large, choice beef front quarter…….cost $600.  Consumers can purchase small amounts at the local grocery store.  And although we aren’t required to feed the rest of the world, our effiicient mass production system exports lots of meat.  We also import a sizeable amount, primarily because our livestock inventory is at a 60-year low.  In the last 30 years, a high % of small, local feedlots and processing plants have gone out of business.  Bottom line:  our food system is global, whether we like it or not.  We’re not doing an adequate job promoting small, local ag.  John Munsell

    • Oginikwe

      We do our own slaughter/processing which is legal in our state as long as the buyer comes to our farm and we don’t sell off-farm. Our beef is born, raised, and slaughtered here, all grassfed, and because they don’t get sick, we don’t need to use antibiotics. There are many places where people are growing their own and will sell but you do have to leave the city to find them.  I could hook you up with many grassfed animals right off the farm in short order: It saves a trip for the farmers to Minnesota, they would make more money than they get at auction, and the animals don’t have to spend days in “cow hell” at the CAFOs. Food & Water Watch .org promotes local very well.   For $600, you could have gotten a half from us.  $4 lb. hanging weight. 

      Yes, we have gone global and that doesn’t seem to be working out very well.  11,000 kids sickened in Germany on strawberries; toxic pet food; toxic seafood–recalls all around the world.  Soon we’ll be importing chicken from China.  That’ll be interesting.