The owners of a British Columbia meat processing plant pleaded guilty Monday in the B.C. Supreme Court to one count of selling E. coli-tainted meat in 2010.
Pitt Meadows Meats, now known as Meadow Valley Meats, had originally been charged with 11 counts of selling meat unfit for human consumption, a violation under Canada’s Food and Drugs Act. According to the CBC, the government is asking the company to pay a $125,000 fine.
In Monday’s action, the company, owned by Ken and Jeff Kooyman, agreed that before lab tests results were in they had sold 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) of Halal-labeled meat products. Halal means that the animals were slaughtered and processed according to Islamic law.
Following the guilty plea, company officials issued a statement of apology.
“Food safety is a priority in everything we do and we apologize for not fully following government procedures in 2010,” read the statement released Monday. “We accept the decision of the Court and pledge to do better.”
Pitt Meadows Meats had reportedly received a positive test result for E. coli O157:H7 in September 2010 but did not recall the meat, according to the court’s statement of facts.
However, after a plant employee informed the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) about the positive test result, products were recalled and the plant was shut down for a month.
Daniel Land, who was the company’s HACCP coordinator at the time, said he told the plant manager and the owner about the problem, and when nothing was done, he decided to contact CFIA.
“I told CFIA on a Friday, and it was later the next week that they told the Canadian people,” he said in an interview with Food Safety News, adding, “The E. coli-tainted meat was in the marketplace the whole time.”
The plant’s management suggested to CFIA officials that the lab tests had been tampered with and that perhaps Land had done it. Land, who said he was fired from his job after the incident, denied doing so.
Subsequent E. coli tests of the company’s meat products were negative, according to news reports.
Pitt Meadows Meats recalled some of its products (ground beef, ground lamb, beef trim and stewing beef) in November 2010, which included Halal-labeled meat. Most of the company’s products were distributed in the Vancouver, B.C., market.
On Nov. 9, 2010, CFIA issued a warning to the public not to consume fresh or frozen lean ground beef and frozen ground beef patties produced by the company and sold in B.C. between Sept. 3-11, 2010. The agency’s warning stated that “these products may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.”
In January 2011, the company decided to opt out of federal government regulation and come under provincial regulation instead.
While no illnesses were reported in connection with the company’s beef and lamb products produced and sold in 2010, Land told Food Safety News that it would be hard to tell whether anyone was ever sickened by consuming them.
“We don’t know where this stuff went. We don’t know who ate it,” he said.
Land subsequently left the food industry and is now working as a hotel manager in Edmonton. He said the experience showed him that “it’s all about money” and that companies such as Pitt Meadows Meats can’t be trusted to tell the public the truth.
“The Canadian people don’t know what’s going on. We’ve got a real problem here in the Canada with the food industry,” he said.© Food Safety News