BROOKS, Alta. – The union for workers at an Alberta beef packer shut down over E. coli concerns says better training and work conditions are required to ensure meat is safe.
Doug O’Halloran, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, says the speed of the processing line at the XL Foods plant in Brooks is too fast.
O’Halloran told a news conference Wednesday that between 300 and 320 carcasses go by workers on the line every hour. That leaves only two to three seconds to slice the meat and has resulted in less time in which to make sure equipment and meat is clean.
“It’s just not enough time,” O’Halloran said.
“We are calling on Lakeside to take it seriously. You can replace all the aluminum, all the stainless steel you want at the plant, but if you don’t give your workers the tools to perform the job properly, we’re not going to solve this problem.”
O’Halloran said the plant’s increasing reliance on temporary foreign workers is also a problem. The company has not worked with the union to ensure the workers are properly trained and know what their rights are, he added.
The union boss said whistleblower protection is needed for the workers who are afraid to speak out about problems for fear of reprisal.
“Lakeside you’ve got one chance to get this correct. We understand you’re spending lots of money, but you’re still not listening to the people who are the most important in your food safety — the workers who are doing the job.
“They are going to get you through this day and it’s time you woke up and listened to them.”
Also on Wednesday food safety officials were reviewing a report on a pre-inspection of the XL plant.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency staff went through the facility on Tuesday to see if the company has fixed problems that led to a massive international recall of beef products.
Agency spokeswoman Lisa Gauthier said the pre-inspection is just one step in a multi-step process of determining if the plant is safe to resume operating.
The CFIA didn’t receive the report until late Tuesday night, she said, and the agency will carefully review it before commenting. She said that probably would be later this week.
The owners of XL Foods say they have fixed all of the problems that were cited by the food safety agency and will work diligently to deal with any concerns.