By Eric Wilkins, Staff Writer
What started as a voluntary meat recall from XL Foods last month has turned into a nation-wide recall of over 1,800 products and the indefinite closure of the Brooks, Alberta plant due to concerns about an E. coli outbreak.
The company has assumed responsibility for the situation, saying in a statement, “We believed XL Foods was a leader in the beef processing industry with our food safety protocols, but we have now learned it was not enough. We take full responsibility for our plant operations and the food it produces … we are doing everything we can to take the lead in an enhanced, comprehensive food safety program for our plant.”
Agricultural Minister Gerry Ritz said that the company had failed to follow an important safety procedure called “bracketing”, whereby they, “take out the shipment ahead of it and the shipment behind it and search those out, and everything is brought back.”
George Da Pont, head of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency noted that, “What we found is that the plant was not doing appropriate trend analysis when they had spikes [in E. coli] the previous week. We found that there were, when we did the further investigations, a few instances where the bracketing process that the minister described was not properly followed.”
However, Interim Liberal Leader, Bob Rae, was unsatisfied with the actions of the CFIA and Agricultural Minister Gerry Ritz, saying, “I have a problem with how long that took. I think if someone else had been minister, they might have said, ‘Well, if we’re protecting Americans, why aren’t we protecting Canadians at the same time?’”
Rae’s statement was directed towards the fact that while the CFIA put a ban on XL Foods shipping to the United States (after being prompted by the USDA) on September 13, Canadians weren’t notified of the first recalled products until September 16. The plant itself wasn’t shut down until September 27.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair echoed Rae’s comments on Ritz, “He’s the one who put this self-regulating system in place. He is responsible. Why is this minister of agriculture still in his position? He must resign.”
Ritz responded by saying that they’re taking the outbreak “very seriously” and “We’re working to ensure the CFIA has the regulations that they require and the monetary capacity to get the job done.”
E. coli has the potential to be fatal and the symptoms typically include stomach cramps, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and a slight fever. The CFIA is warning the public not to consume, sell, or serve any of the beef products on the list because they may be contaminated with E. coli. For a complete list of the recalled products, visit www.inspection.gc.ca.