Alberta Agriculture Minister and Wetaskiwin - Camrose MLA Verlyn Olson shops for steak and ground beef at the Camrose Co-op Saturday Sept. 29, 2012, in Camrose ALberta, despite an E. coli scare and shutdown of the XL Foods processing plant in Brooks.
Credits: VINCE BURKE/ CAMROSE CANADIAN/ QMI AGENCY
CALGARY – The beef processing plant at the centre of an ongoing E. Coli scare is expected to reopen again in days, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency told QMI Agency.
Richard Arsenault, director of the CFIA's meat programs division, said first XL Foods needs to implement at its Brooks plant new data analysis procedures, which is believed to be the source of the problems.
"They were doing the testing right, they were finding positives and they were taking them out of the system," he said. "Then there were clusters of them where there shouldn't have been."
The news came even as the number of product recalls grew Saturday, with several steak products carried by some Walmart, Metro and Food Basics added to a list stretching across several provinces and 30 states.
Despite expectation the Brooks plant will re-open soon, Arsenault said several more additions will likely follow.
It's an exceptional event requiring exceptional reaction, he said.
More important is what led to this contamination, said UFCW Local 401 negotiator Tom Hesse. Line speed imposed on workers at the more than 2,000 cattle-per-day plant has always been an issue, he said.
"Things fall through the cracks ... they're trying to do too much with too little," he said.
Jason Danard, sales and marketing vice-president for Calgary Stockyards, defended XL Foods, calling it a first-class operation and said the shutdown is damaging.
"Every day the plant is dark we have a backlog of cattle that aren't going through the system," he said, noting there are further pressures with increased cost to feed the animals.
"(The industry is) a finely tuned machine, but when something's not operating, it will create challenges for everyone."
Dennis Laycraft, Canadian Cattlemen's Association executive vice-president, said XL Foods has a good reputation he hopes will help it move forward once re-licensed in Canada and re-listed in the U.S.
In the absence of the Brooks plant, Laycraft said it's likely others would increase production or cattle would be taken to the U.S. for slaughter.
"We believe those jobs should be here, because of the location of the cattle industry," he said, adding the Brooks plant is "state of the art," and it makes sense to process there.
In an effort quell consumer fears, Alberta Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson hit the Camrose Co-op Saturday to buy hamburger and steaks.
"I want to make the point because, unfortunately, there can be overreaction to an issue like this and people can get an impression that there isn't safe food in our stores," he said.