The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has temporarily suspended the licence of the processor at the centre of a huge E.coli recall in Canada and the US.
The agency said it launched an investigation into XL Foods after E.coli O157:H7 was first detected in beef products on 4 September. It determined that a “combination of several deficiencies played a role” in the contamination, and that E.coli control measures and testing procedures at the plant were inconsistent.
Although acknowledging that XL Foods had taken steps to improve procedures, CFIA said “these deficiencies had not been completely corrected” and there was no adequate plan in place to address longer-term risks. It added that it had therefore decided to temporarily suspend the plant’s licence to operate, with all products currently at the plant under CFIA detention and control.
“XL Foods will not resume operations until they have demonstrated that they have fully implemented CFIA’s required corrective actions,” said a CFIA statement.
CFIA yesterday further expanded the voluntary recall of beef products produced by XL Foods on 24, 27, 28 and 29 August and 5 September. The agency warned: “The trace-out from XL to secondary and tertiary distributors, manufacturers and retailers could result in a large number of affected products over a wide range of codes and dates.”
Both the CFIA and its counterparts in the US have come under fire for their handling of the situation, with particular concerns raised as to why the CFIA only issued a recall on 16 September, despite the contamination first being detected on 4 September, with the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture delisting the plant on 13 September.
“This is more evidence that too much authority has been handed off to the industry to self-police that has resulted in this unacceptable delay,” said Fabian Murphy, first national vice-president of Canada’s Agriculture Union – PSAC.
Campaign groups in both countries have argued that the scare demonstrates why Canada and the US should abandon plans to eliminate the meat border inspection programme under the ‘Beyond the Border’ initiative.
“XL Foods is a perfect example of why we need to keep and strengthen food inspection at the border, not eliminate it. Ottawa should cancel the pilot project and back away from this dangerous idea,” Murphy said.