Under fire in the wake of XL Foods’ massive beef recall, Canada’s food safety watchdogs have gone public with the list of "corrective actions" they’ve ordered before the company’s Lakeside packing plant can reopen for business.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Friday released its corrective action requests (CARs) issued to the company following its "in-depth" review of the plant’s operations.
The agency on Monday said a "detailed assessment" will begin Tuesday (Oct. 9) at the Brooks, Alta. plant to see if it has "addressed deficiencies uncovered" during that review. "Based on the results, a recommendation on next steps will be made to senior CFIA officials," the agency said.
CFIA suspended the federal license for the XL plant on Sept. 27, after weeks of product recalls dating back to Sept. 4, when the agency first confirmed E. coli O157 in products from an Alberta plant using Lakeside beef.
The plant’s license will remain suspended and all products at the plant will remain in CFIA detention during this week’s assessment, the agency added Monday.
Product recalls have expanded since then on a near-daily basis. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) on Monday said it has so far linked a total of 11 cases of O157-related illness to the XL investigation, including seven in Alberta, two in Quebec, one in Newfoundland and Labrador and one in British Columbia.
However, PHAC noted, O157-related foodborne illnesses "are not uncommon in Canada and no unusual increases in the number of these illnesses have been detected nationally."
Quebec’s ministry of agriculture, food and fisheries on Friday urged any consumers in that province who have uncooked beef products in their possession purchased after Aug. 24 to check if those products have been part of any XL-related recall to date.
Where there’s any doubt, the ministry said it recommended tossing out those products.
Various strains of E. coli are found in cattle’s digestive tracts, CFIA said Friday, and contamination can occur when animals are slaughtered, especially during de-hiding and evisceration.
During an in-depth review or audit situation, CFIA said, all findings are issued CARs immediately.
XL, CFIA said Friday, had an "appropriate" hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) plan at the Brooks plant to control food safety risks, but the plan "was not being fully implemented or regularly updated."
Among its findings, CFIA noted a "lack of detailed documents outlining required steps when product was positive for E. coli O157:H7 or when there were a high number of positives in a 24-hour period."
The agency also noted "inconsistent trend analysis" of samples where E. coli was detected, and "no process to include test results from client establishments."
Further, CFIA said it found "insufficient record-keeping related to ongoing monitoring and validation of processes, procedures, and equipment maintenance." For example, CFIA said, two of 11 water nozzles were found clogged in the plant’s primary carcass wash area.
CFIA on Friday also listed other CARs on "general maintenance and sanitation" issues that may be found in a high-volume plant, especially an older facility. While Lakeside has undergone several expansions and upgrades, the original plant has operated since 1974.
Among its CARs, CFIA said refrigeration units "had not been cleaned as frequently as is required in the company’s written sanitation plan." Ice build-up was seen on freezer doors, water dripped from piping and a drain near the plant’s rendering room "was emitting a foul odour."
Condensation was seen above exposed containers of product in the plant’s sampling and weighing areas and sanitizer was "dripping from overhead structures onto product below." An evisceration table thermometer "was not functioning properly."
CFIA also noted some employees "were not wearing beard nets" while others sorting beef trim "touched contaminated product without following appropriate washing and sanitizing procedures."
These issues, CFIA said, wouldn’t otherwise "typically be expected to contribute to E. coli 0157:H7 contamination."
Each of these findings by itself, CFIA reiterated Friday, "would not typically signal an immediate concern during the course of normal inspection activities."
For its part, XL said Friday it remains "fully committed and (is) working diligently with the CFIA, to build on many of our industry-leading practices and intensify and enhance our food safety system to exceed existing high standards and regain the trust of Canadian consumers."
For example, XL noted, it’s now Canada’s first food processor to use "21st century technology in food safety programs" by installing video auditing to verify sanitary dress procedures and food safety system reviews.
South of the border, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service on Friday updated its estimate of U.S. processors’ imports originating from Lakeside on Aug. 24, 27, 28 and 29 and Sept. 5 — the production dates on which all XL’s current recalls are based.
Where FSIS had previously said 890,000 pounds of boneless beef trim had been imported, it bumped up that figure Friday to a total of 1.1 million lbs. of trim and about 1.4 million lbs. of primal and sub-primal cuts.