Canada to Strengthen Food-Safety After Largest Meat Recall

Canada will spend C$15.77 million ($15.2 million) for inspection teams to conduct random checks at food plants after a review of last year’s XL Foods Inc. beef recall found a “relaxed attitude” toward safety standards.

Responsibilities toward food safety programs were not always met by staff in the Brooks, Alberta plant and by Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials on site, a government-appointed panel concluded in a report released today. There was no evidence XL Foods analyzed beef product test results for trends prior to the E.coli contamination, the report said, and was unable to make any efforts to correct the root cause of the contamination.

The recall was the largest in Canadian history and cost the beef industry C$16 million to C$27 million, the review found. The XL Foods recall issue began on Sept. 4 and by Oct. 15, beef contaminated with E.coli made 18 people sick and 1,800 products had been removed from the market in Canada and the U.S.

The Canadian government will create inspection verification teams to ensure plants consistently enforce food-safety rules, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a statement today. The teams will perform spot checks at federally-registered food plants and the frequency of inspections will depend on the risks associated with the food produced, Paul Mayers, associate vice-president of programs at CFIA, said during a media briefing from Ottawa.

“No system can give an absolute assurance of zero risk,” Mayers said. “I would never want to leave the impression with the inspection verification teams that we have a no-risk system.”

Action Plan

The recall report comes three weeks after the government unveiled a safe food action plan which includes requirements for all meat plants to label mechanically-tenderized beef cuts, such as steaks or roasts. The CFIA will conduct a broader review of food regulations, according to a government press release, which may take two years to complete.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association asked Health Canada last month to consider allowing beef irradiation to further reduce potential food contamination, they said in a statement. Health Canada has started a safety assessment of the irradiation, a government spokeswoman said in an e-mail, and a team of scientific experts will consider its efficacy.