A panel that delved into the reasons behind the biggest beef recall in history says that both staff of XL Foods Inc. and inspectors for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency failed to be diligent about food safety.
And it appears that the meat was contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 in much the same way that Listeria monocytogenes contaminated processed meats at the Maple Leaf Foods Inc. plant in Toronto, leading to the death of 23 people. The bacteria lodged in processing equipment and was not cleaned out and fully sanitized.
“It was all preventable,” concludes an independent review of the 2012 XL Foods Inc. beef recall, in which 1,800 products were removed from the Canadian and U.S. markets and 18 consumers became sick.
The XL Foods Inc. plant in Brooks, Alta., accounted for 35 per cent of Canada’s beef processing, and the independent panel led by three doctors found long-standing problems with cleanliness and proper inspection practices.
They report the root cause of the problem was likely an animal that was heavily contaminated with E. coli-157:H7.
“As the contaminated carcass moved through the plant, the bacteria became lodged in or on a piece of equipment within the establishment,” the report states. “It seems likely that sanitation was inadequate.”
XL is also faulted for failing to practice what to do in the event of a major recall, and its staff failed to ensure equipment was regularly and properly cleaned.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency workers at the plant failed to notice the problems.
These and many other issues persisted four years after the government promised sweeping food-safety reforms in response to the 2008 listeria bacteria contamination at Maple Leaf Foods that took the lives of 23 Canadians and led to serious illness in 57 others who ate tainted meat products.
In a report released on Wednesday, the independent panel said it found “a relaxed attitude toward applying mandatory procedures” at the Brooks plant, where company staff work with government inspectors.
“It was a series of inadequate responses by two key players in the food-safety continuum that played the most critical part leading to the September, 2012, event at XL Foods Inc. – plant and CFIA staff.
“We found that responsibilities towards food-safety programs were not always met – by both plant staff and CFIA officials on site,” the report states.
The panel was chaired by Ronald Lewis and included two others with doctorate degrees: André Corriveau and Ronald Usborne.
Despite decades of warnings from Dr. Doug Powell, who has a doctorate in food safety communications, too many companies fail to develop and ensure food safety culture in their facilities.
That's far more important than rules, regulations, inspections and audits, Powell has repeatedly said.