XL plant starts slowly to ensure food safety

JBS manages production | Workers trained on protocols

Meat is leaving the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., for the first time since an E. coli outbreak forced its closure in September.

“They’re shipping the product out and it’s going to retailers. Everything seems to be in progress,” said Doug O’Halloran of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

JBS USA took over management of the southern Alberta plant from XL Foods in October. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency pulled XL Foods’ license to produce after food safety concerns.

Nineteen people became sick after eating E. coli contaminated meat from the plant.

As part of its relicensing agreement, the slaughtered beef must be held until E. coli tests come back negative.

When JBS took over management of the plant, it said it planned to implement its own tough food safety system that is already in place at its eight U.S. plants.

“They’re taking great care to ensure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed,” O’Halloran said.

The plant slaughtered almost 2,000 head of cattle per day before it was shut down. Workers cited line speed as part of the reason why food safety standards may have been compromised.

The production line began at a slower pace when the plant reopened to ensure all workers understood food safety protocols. The line is still operating at a reduced pace, he said.

“They’re doing what is necessary to ensure everyone is trained properly and the best product possible is going out the door.”

Workers have also been given more authority to raise food safety issues, O’Halloran said.

“So far the changes with JBS have been very positive,” he said.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed it will continue to have a heightened sense of food safety and worker safety and get this plant back operating fully.”

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