Staff and safety officials blamed for E.coli outbreak

By Carina Perkins

- Last updated on GMT

XL Foods and CFIA staff blamed for E.coli outbreak
XL Foods and CFIA staff blamed for E.coli outbreak

Related tags: Food, Canada, Beef

The E.coli outbreak at Canada’s XL Foods meat processing plant was the result of failures by plant staff and food safety officials, an independent review panel has found.

The panel concluded that there had been a catalogue of errors leading to the outbreak, which triggered the largest beef recall in Canada’s history. These included the failure by staff to clean equipment properly, the failure by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspectors to notice problems in the plant, and an inadequate response by management once the contamination had been identified.

“We found one of the country’s largest beef processors unprepared to handle what turned out to be the largest beef recall in Canadian history. As the company had never conducted any mock recalls on a scale that remotely mimicked a real event, XL Foods found itself overwhelmed with the recall that occurred,”​ said the report.

The panel said it was unable to provide a “definitive”​ version of events, but speculated that the outbreak probably originated from an animal heavily contaminated with E.coli, which shed bacteria as it moved through the processing line. This bacteria became lodged on equipment, which was not cleaned sufficiently, and therefore contaminated the beef carcasses that passed through it.

It added that XL Foods staff failed to pay attention to the increasing E.coli positive tests on beef trim, meaning that the meat was allowed to leave the plant and was only picked up when it reached the US border. Once the contamination had been identified, there was a six-day delay in giving CFIA inspectors information on the dates of production and distribution of potentially contaminated products.

“The six-day delay in providing this information – while the plant remained in operation and no root cause had been identified – meant that contaminated product continued to be produced and shipped from the plant. Some of this product would go on to be further processed by secondary and even tertiary processors into a variety of beef products, making its identification and distribution even more difficult,”​ stated the report.

Government vows action

Responding to the report, which has been tabled at the House of Commons, Canada’s agriculture minister Gerry Ritz said that the government would invest nearly $16 million over three years to establish Inspection Verification Teams (IVTs) which would oversee the performance of Canada’s entire food inspection system.

He added that the Safe Food for Canadians Action Plan, introduced on 17 May, 2013, would further improve standards and that some of the panel’s recommendations had already been addressed through enhancement to E.coli controls, which include more rigorous testing and documentation requirements.

“Since this recall, our government passed legislation to strengthen Canada’s food safety system, which will improve inspections, strengthen food safety rules, and improve communication with Canadian consumers,”​ he said.

Related topics: Meat

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