What’s going on at XL Foods?

by Aaron Wherry

XL Foods says everything is now fine at its Brooks plant. The union representing the people who work there begs to differ.

“Workers at XL Foods in Brooks want to be part of the solution,” he said in a news release. “They’re going to be back at work in a few days, but nothing has been done to address the issues that led to this problem.”

Mr. O’Halloran, who has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday afternoon in Brooks, Alta., cited concerns relating to training for temporary foreign workers, line speed and a need to protect whistleblowers.

The NDP has just put out a news release reminding everyone that it thinks Gerry Ritz should resign.




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What’s going on at XL Foods?

  1. Does anybody know if these foreign temporary workers belong to the union?

    • I am sure they must. They seem to make up alot of the workforce and everywhere I have worked, union membership is automatic for all employees…you cannot opt out. In all the jobs i have had even if the job is temporary, you are hired on and immediately become part of the union. If the job is temporary or casual, you get no benefits. Nursing in Alberta is still like that….no benefits for casual nurses.

      • You live in Alberta and apparently know everything – why don’t you find out and report back to us instead just making stuff up.

  2. Here’s what I don’t understand:

    This plant is responsible for slaughtering somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30-40% of Canada’s consumption or production (including exports), or both. 4,000 head per day.

    You would think that regular plant audits would be undertaken by the quality control people in the plant – internal XL Quality Control people. It was a post crisis audit that revealed the extent of the operational problems (smelly drain, dripping containers, poor hygiene etc).

    Why wouldn’t these types of audits be done on a regularly scheduled basis by the company itself? Maybe they will be now, due to the extent of the economic losses due to the extended shut down and recall. Even the cattle producers should demand such action from the company.

    • If it’s like any other large company in this country, it probably has a ream of procedural documents that lay out proper cleaning, auditing, and inspection methodology (as well as every other aspect of the business). The problem probably lies in actually doing the work spelled out in the written procedures. Hiring untrained part-time staff on the cheap and expecting them to know all of the procedures is likely going to be found to contribute to the problem. It’s no good having the procedures laid down if management isn’t getting the workers to follow the procedures. It’s also no good if the work staff is either too inexperienced, too overworked, or too unmotivated to stick to the procedures.

      This is where having a strong CFIA/Health Canada is useful…both in aiding the company with developing safe procedures and in performing external inspections and audits to make sure that they are actually following those safe procedures (with penalties/shutdowns if they don’t). You would think that after the Maple Leaf listeriosis killings, all meat-packers would consider cleanliness and not killing your customers to be good economic ideals to live up to, as well as good ethical ideals. You would think. But for some reason (cost saving frenzies? laziness? stupidity?), tainted food got out on the market again. And this will repeat so long as we have a government that thinks that there’s no role for government in anything, anytime.

      • While it is important to train people on the floor as you mention, training management (and the consultants that are brought in to improve productivity – increase throughput) properly so that they understand the importance of food borne bacteria and hygiene would seem equally important.

        Maple Leaf was going through a major restructuring. It appears that XL had changed ownership at some time and had increased throughput from reportedly 3,400 head to 4,000. Operations management/production throughput appears to have been in conflict with food safety.

        • Ownership was changed 3 years ago. If things got progressively slacker in terms of following the rules, then it is up to the inspectors to reel things in. They DON’T work for XL Foods. They can’t be fired by the owners.

          • That’s just shirking mgnt’s responsibility. You are focusing on only one part. BOTH are responsible.

          • I cannot speak to the experience of the management who are running the plant but the owners come from a ranching family. They own several auction marts and they would not want the beef industry to suffer as a result of anything like this because they have a vested interest in it. If anything, they were inexperienced but I don’t think they would have done anything purposeful to risk the safety of the product. They lived throught the BSE crisis. They know the importance of the reputation of the product.

          • Sheesh. And that is the point I made earlier. Mgnt needs training. Raising cattle on a ranch is quite different than running a slaughterhouse and mass production meat packing plant. Same with productivity experts who work in car assemble plants, for example. It is different.

      • No one is mentioning that there are 39 government-employed inspectors and 6 vets employed at this facility. Their SOLE purpose is to ensure that the procedures are followed; that no one becomes lazy or takes short cuts. I know you guys want to blame the people at the top of the government but when there is an outbreak of a bacterial infection in hospital, it is usually because staff aren’t doing their jobs with regard to hygeine. The buck stops there. No one says….its the health ministers fault you didn’t wash your hands. Let’s ask for SOME accountability from our civil servants. They can’t be fired by the owners of XL Foods. There were 39 of them! Not one of them noticed that some of the hoses were clogged? Not one of them noticed that the employees weren’t washing their knives between critters? Why were they at the plant if not to observe there exact things? Yes the owners need to be held accountable; Yes, we need good training in our staff; Yes, we need enough inspectors BUT only if they are actually going to do the job.

        • I actually don’t believe those numbers are true. I saw them in one press release and have yet to see them verified independantly.

          • Well if you lived in Alberta and had the head of public health, Jerry Preddy on your nightly news talking about the plant, the inspectors and the path the meat took after it left XL Foods, perhaps you would BELIEVE some of the things you have been told.

          • Sorry, this is the same bunch that immediately lied about 700 new “inspectors” working for the CFIA when this story first broke. I have no reason to trust any claims they make about CFIA’s workforce, given their track record. Why would living in Alberta increase my naivite to the point where I wouldn’t doubt their unsupported claims?

        • ” There were 39 of them!”

          But you have no idea whether that’s an appropriate number. It’s completely meaningless without understanding their mandate, the scope of their activity, etc.

          What we do have are results: the largest beef recall in Canadian history. The burden is on the people who designed this inspection system (the government and its agencies) to prove that their system didn’t fail.

          • You guys are hilarious. Was that an appropriate number? Was that their mandate? What???? To ensure the safety of the meat coming out of the plant….they are Canadian meat inspectors….why would they be IN the plant if not to make sure that conditions IN the plant are condusive to processing safe meat? If they were just doing samples, they wouldn’t need to be working IN the plant, would they now? Further, as for that being an “appropriate number’….HELLO…..it took the visiting inspectors (you know the ones who did the audit and shut the plant down) a short tour of the plant to find EVERYTHING that was wrong with it including the clogged hoses.
            Systems don’t always fail sometimes people don’t do their jobs. That is why years go by and we don’t have ANY recalls of meat due to bacterial contamination. This plant is decades old. It has never had a recall before.

        • Information we don’t have .. How many shifts does XL run ? How
          long are the shifts ? Do the inspectors’ shifts coincide with the
          workers’ shifts ? 39 ( I’ve also read 46) is just a number. It gives
          no idea how many are there at any one time. With days off, vacations,
          multiple shifts, sickness, whatever, who knows?
          Back in the day when media had reporters dedicated to “the labour beat”
          we might gain some understanding of those things … and, yes, there
          was such a time.

          • All of that information would be really relevant BGLong if it hadn’t taken the visiting (auditing) inspectors only a short tour to find OBVIOUS problems in the plant, like clogged hoses at the station where they shower off the critter before they cut it up.

  3. We could directly subsidize mushroom proteins or other fake meat. Fewer pandmeics down the road and better crop yields. No meat and little pet food is the politically easiest AGQ strategy.

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