OTTAWA – A lax approach to safety procedures by both plant staff and federal inspectors was partly to blame for an E. coli outbreak last fall that sickened 18 people and led to the largest beef recall in Canadian history, an independent review said Wednesday.
The three-member panel that reviewed the incident said the XL Foods Inc. plant in Brooks, Alta., was overwhelmed and unprepared for the crisis because it had never rehearsed a recall on a scale that mirrored a real event.
The review also said there was a weak food-safety culture among plant workers and Canadian Food Inspection Agency staff at the facility.
The panel is laying out recommendations to improve food safety, including better training for CFIA staff and tighter enforcement of oversight responsibilities.
Agriculture Gerry Ritz welcomed the report.
“Our government accepts the recommendations that the panel has made,” Ritz said after the report was tabled in the House of Commons.
“We will continue to work on bolstering our food safety system by improving inspections, strengthening food safety rules and recalls and improving communications with Canadian consumers.”
Ritz said the government also plans to spend $16 million over three years to establish a system of inspection verification teams to ensure rules and standards are followed.
“These highly skilled teams will conducted unannounced spot checks at any federally inspected plants across Canada,” he said. “They will assess the plant’s food safety controls and operations as well as the corresponding inspection activities.”
He said the government and the inspection agency are working to implement the other panel recommendations.
“Food safety is not static,” he said.
Panel members Ron Lewis, Andre Corriveau and Ron Usborne were charged with determining how the contamination occurred and how authorities responded to the crisis.
The contamination left thousands of tonnes of suspect beef to be disposed of in what the report described as the largest such recall ever in Canada.
At the time of the E. coli outbreak, the XL Foods plant was the largest Canadian-owned beef slaughter facility in the country.
It is now owned and operated by JBS Food Canada, a subsidiary of JBS South America.