Canada has experienced one of the largest beef recalls of its history. XL Foods, a beef-processing factory that exports to over 20 countries, has been under scrutiny since Sept. 4.
Public alerts were issued after E. coli cases appeared across Canada. Cases have appeared in Alberta, Quebec, Newfoundland, and Vancouver, with a total of 11 cases in Canada so far. The recall included beef products produced on or after Aug. 24 , 27, 28, 29, and Sept. 5.
The recalled meat came from approximately 20,000 cows, which were packaged, processed, and sent to stores across Canada and more than 20 countries, including the U.S., Hong Kong, and Japan.
The U.S. Food and Safety Inspection Service tested the beef, which was positive for E. coli, on Sept. 3. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was notified on Sept. 4. The same day the CFIA also found more beef that tested positive for E. coli.
Some meat product was stopped at the U.S. border but it is estimated that 1.134 million kilograms of potentially tainted beef was distributed in the U.S. alone.
News of the tainted beef reached the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety where they advised stores to recall or stop selling the potentially tainted beef. According to the centre, the amount of beef that reached Hong Kong was a small. Future imports of XL products produced after Aug. 24 have been suspended.
There has been widespread criticism of both the CFIA and XL Foods since the recall. There are two systems involved in the safety of food: the plant’s own system and the government’s system. The government’s system is responsible for watching the plant to ensure the company is taking the correct steps to ensure food safety.
The recall occurred on Sept. 16 after an accumulation of positive tests and illnesses linked to the tainted meat occurred.
XL Foods is one of the largest employers in Brooks, Alberta with over 2,000 employees, and is one of Canada’s largest beef processors. The company claims to be federally inspected and Hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) approved, with state-of-the art food safety inspections in order to produce high quality beef.
According to XL, there are minimum requirements that have to be met before the beef will be processed or shipped elsewhere. These requirements are based on maturity, meat colour, sex, fat colour, carcass muscling, fat coverage and texture, meat texture, and marbling level based on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) marbling scores. The quality grades met for their beef include Canada Prime, Canada AAA, Canada AA, and Canada A. Their business vision is built on four pillars that their people, their products, their performance, and their passion.
The Nilsson brothers, who bought the family-run company from their father, have, for the most part, stayed out of the public eye throughout the beef recall.
However, on Thursday, Oct. 11 Brian Nilsson commented on the recall.
“We absolutely take full responsibility and apologize to all those affected,” said Nilsson.
Doug O’Halloran, the local 401 president of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), who represents the 2,000 workers at the XL Foods Lakeside Packers plant, the plant which is the source of the recall, acknowledged that the Nilsson brothers have remained in the background, but also acknowledged their need to step up to the public scrutiny.
“I understand them to be good honest people, but now is the time for them to be stepping up out in public and putting a face to the product and saying, ‘Look, we’re fixing this,’” said O’Halloran.
After the Nilsson brothers moved into the processing side of beef production, their goal was to expand through buying out American companies. They achieved this and became one of Canada’s largest companies involved in beef processing. Their motives for moving into processing were questioned by a parliamentary committee on agriculture in 2004.
“When we bought the plant, I had every guy in the cattle business tell me, ‘Boy, you’re stupid. You should never do that. You can’t fight those big Americans.’ Well, I built a business around it. Anybody can get into this business if they want. That’s how it works. We’re entrepreneurs,” said Neilson.