Limited operations approved for XL beef plant

The Alberta plant at the centre of an E. coli scare is being allowed to resume limited operations.

The Alberta plant at the centre of an E. coli scare is being allowed to resume limited operations.

But the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says no meat will leave the XL Foods meat packer in Brooks until the agency has approved a full reopening.

“Beginning today XL Foods will be permitted to resume limited in-house cutting and further processing under strict enhanced oversight,” said Harpreet Kochhar, executive director for the agency’s western operations.

“This will allow the CFIA to review in a controlled manner the company’s improvements made to all previously addressed deficiencies.”

The plant was shut down Sept. 27 during an ever-expanding recall of its beef products across Canada and more than 20 other countries, including the United States.

Kochhar said the plant has been cleaned and sanitized, and condensation, drainage and ice buildup have also been addressed.

The union for workers at the packing house has said problems go deeper than that.

Doug O’Halloran told a news conference Wednesday that the pace of slaughter operations forces workers to take shortcuts around cleanliness and puts the health of beef-eating Canadians at risk.

O’Halloran, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said the processing line at XL Foods moves too quickly.

“You can replace all the aluminum, all the stainless steel you want at the plant, but if you don’t give your workers the tools to perform the job properly, we’re not going to solve this problem,” he said.

Between 300 and 320 carcasses go by workers every hour and employees make between 3,000 and 4,000 cuts a shift. That has resulted in less time in which to make sure knives are sanitized after each cut, the union president said.

O’Halloran wants a public inquiry into the problems that led to the plant’s shutdown.