The head of XL Foods Inc. apologized unequivocally Thursday to those who were sickened by eating tainted meat and vowed to “making sure this doesn’t happen again.”
In his only interview since his company became mired in the largest ever beef recall in Canadian history, a contrite Brian Nilsson, who along with his brother Lee serve as co-chief executive officers of Canada’s largest beef processing company, told Postmedia News this means XL Foods will invest whatever is needed to make sure the food safety gaps at the plant never recur.
He spoke just as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced the company was able to resume limited operations at its Brooks, Alta. facility. Nilsson called the development “a strong first step to moving back to a more normalized operation” after CFIA suspended the plant’s licence on Sept. 27.
“We absolutely take full responsibility and apologize to all those affected,” Nilsson said. “We’re totally committed to making sure that this doesn’t happen again and investing and doing what is necessary to bring that forward.”
Nilsson and his brother have stayed under the radar until now, nearly a month after CFIA announced the first recall of XL beef products on Sept. 16. It has since ballooned to over 1,800 products, many sold under the store brand of some of Canada’s largest retailers and grocers. Tainted meat from the XL Foods plant has also been linked definitively to 12 E. coli 0157:H7 cases in four provinces.
Nilsson, who has weathered blistering attacks in the press for remaining mum for so long, admitted the sweeping recall and related E. coli cases came “very much” as a surprise to him because he thought the plant had rigorous safety protocols in place.
The 430,000 sq. ft. facility slaughters between 3,800 and 4,000 cattle daily. Nilsson defended the speed as “well within industry standards for a plant of that size,” saying the plant has “always worked within CFIA guidelines as far as the amount of cattle that you can process in an hour.”
Edmonton-based Nilsson Brothers Inc. purchased XL Foods Inc. in 1999 and bought the Brooks facility a decade later. Since 2009, Nilsson says the company has “spent tens of millions of dollars on the plant” to modernize the facility and put in additional food safety interventions.
“We had an extensive testing program in the plant and it really was a surprise to us,” Nilsson told Postmedia.
CFIA, too, was caught off-guard after discovering a positive E. coli finding on beef trimmings from the slaughterhouse during routine CFIA testing on Sept. 4. On the same day, U.S. authorities informed CFIA of a positive E. coli test on beef trimmings from the XL Foods plant at the Montana border. The U.S. shut the border to beef from the XL Foods plant on Sept. 13 and its remains closed.
During its subsequent in-depth review of the plant, CFIA d iscovered that its own staff stationed at the plant (40 inspectors and two veterinarians, split between two production shifts) failed to identify that the plant wasn’t managing properly its E. coli safety controls...
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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