XL Foods’ Alberta plant was half way through the cutting of 5,100 carcases under Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) supervision when it announced it was stopping operations and laying off 2,000 staff. The company has since relented and recalled 800 staff to continue the carcase cutting – a crucial step in the move towards regaining its licence – but the fate of the remaining 1,200 staff remains uncertain.
In a statement released on Sunday (14 October), XL Foods’ co-chief executive Brian Nilsson said the company looked forward to “actively working with the CFIA to bring this to a viable and timely resolution to allow the plant to recommence operations”. An earlier statement from the company had blamed the CFIA for the lay-offs, claiming the Agency had failed to give it a “definitive timeline” for the relicensing of the plant. “It is this uncertainty that has forced the temporary lay-offs,” said Nilsson.
The CFIA has yet to comment on XL Foods’ decision to go ahead with the supervised carcase cutting. A statement released by the Agency on Saturday said the process was “a critical element in our assessment of the company’s E.coli safeguards”.
“At this time, we are unable to complete our assessment. We are ready to continue our assessment as soon as the company resumes activities,” it said.
The Agency said it had clearly outlined to XL Foods the steps and actions that needed to be taken before a licence was re-issued for the plant, but added: “The speed at which XL Foods Inc begins normal operations is solely dependent on their ability to demonstrate that they can produce safe food.”
All of the products from XL Foods remain under detention by the CFIA. The Agency said it had authorised the “controlled movement” of some of the detained meat products from the plant to a rendering facility. “Shipments will move under strict CFIA oversight, and none of the rendered material will enter the food system,” it said.
Over 1,800 products have now been recalled by XL Foods, which came under scrutiny after beef from its Alberta facility tested positive for E.coli. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) confirmed last week that 13 people had fallen ill after eating contaminated meat from the plant. In an interview with Postmedia News, Nilsson said that the company took “full responsibility” for the outbreak and was “totally committed” to ensuring that it did not happen again.