Food-safety group defends its actions
Sep 29, 2012 / 4:00 pm
More beef was ordered off Canadian store shelves amid a promise of more recalls to come Friday as food-safety officials sought to explain why it took three weeks to shut down the Alberta meat-packing plant at the centre of Canada's latest E. coli scare.
When routine testing first detected a problem on Sept. 4, there was no compelling reason for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to order a recall or shut down the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., CFIA officials said.
Since then, however, the plant southeast of Calgary has had its operating licence temporarily suspended and products have been recalled for fear of E. coli contamination.
Late Friday, the agency issued yet another recall, this time for "whole muscle cuts" of beef from XL Foods, including steaks and roasts, on top of the list of previously recalled ground beef products.
The stores named in the latest release include Wal-Mart, Food Basics, Metro, Co-op stores and Steakhouse Angus Select.
In Quebec, Marche Richelieu, Marches A-M-I, Metro, Metro F, Metro Plus, Metro Plus F and Super C were added to the list.
And the CFIA says further recalls are likely in the days ahead.
When testing in the U.S. and Canada first detected a possible E. coli issue in the plant, there was nothing to indicate that any tainted meat had reached consumers, said Brian Evans, a special adviser to the agency.
"The primary issue at that time was to identify if, in fact, there was any product in the marketplace that needed to be recalled," Evans told a news conference in Ottawa.
"We did confirm that neither the product that we had found through our testing program or the product that the U.S. had identified ... had gone into the marketplace. Issuing a recall for a product that isn't in the public domain isn't something that we're able to do."
Evans said further information on Sept. 10 triggered an "intensive, in-depth review" that included sending a team of specialists into the plant to search for a possible problem.
Continuing daily testing during that period did not reveal anything "to suggest that the product was of a significant concern," Evans said.
"We were 24 hours, pedal-to-the-metal, in the plant through the (Sept. 15-16) weekend trying to satisfy ourselves that consumers were not being put at risk."
It wasn't until Thursday, however, that the plant's operating licence was suspended. XL Foods has not yet taken the steps necessary to allow the plant to resume operations, and won't be allowed to do so until it does, Evans said.
The problem, he added, appears to be the result of different factors, none of which would by themselves normally pose a problem, combining to create a heightened risk.
Evans says all products currently at the plant are "under CFIA detention and control," and will be released only after being tested for E. coli. Any products found to be contaminated would be sent to a landfill, he said.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture again extended its public health alert about the company's products sold at stores in 30 states, including those of retail giant Walmart.
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