XL recalls some laid-off beef plant workers

A day after laying off nearly all its staff, Alberta beef packer XL Foods has decided to press forward with winning back the federal license for its Lakeside slaughter plant.

Having issued layoff notices to about 2,000 of the staff at the Brooks, Alta. facility on Saturday, the Edmonton company said Sunday it has issued recall notices to 800 of those employees in order "to move forward with the ongoing (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) review."

The only food-related work CFIA allows right now at Lakeside is the continued processing of 5,100 carcasses, confirmed free of E. coli contamination and kept in cold storage since the plant’s license was suspended Sept. 27.

Recalling the staff to continue that job "is key to XL Foods’ efforts to satisfy the conditions of the temporary license to demonstrate the implementation of enhanced protocols," XL said.

CFIA had allowed processing work to resume at the plant just last Thursday, in order for inspectors to watch the plant’s upgraded food safety protocols in operation. Beef products made from the carcasses are being held in detention for now, and cattle slaughter isn’t yet allowed.

"The speed at which XL Foods Inc. begins normal operations is solely dependent on their ability to demonstrate that they can produce safe food," CFIA had said in a release Saturday.

XL, according to CFIA on Saturday, had decided to halt work after processing only about half the carcasses, leaving CFIA "unable to complete our assessment."

XL said Saturday it had issued the layoff notices due to "uncertainty" because CFIA "has not provided a definitive timeline for relicensing" of the plant.

However, federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, whose portfolio includes CFIA oversight, warned after Saturday’s layoff notices that XL’s decision "does not change our government’s commitment to ensuring safe food for Canadian consumers."

The license suspension at Brooks came in the wake of an ongoing and now-massive recall of beef products and primal cuts, shipped from XL to processors and retailers in both Canada and the U.S., dating back to Sept. 4.

The recall stems from detection of O157:H7, one of the more toxic varieties of E. coli bacteria, in some samples of beef from the plant.

As of Friday, the Public Health Agency of Canada has documented 15 people across four provinces whose illnesses have been linked to products from XL and the ongoing food safety investigation.

Related story:
XL halts work, lays off staff at Alta. beef plant, Oct. 14, 2012

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