Canadian food officials have said they will allow XL Foods to partially resume operations at its Alberta meat processing plant while it continues to review the facility, which has been linked to an e. coli outbreak.

In an update today (11 October), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said officials will monitor the plant’s food safety control in action by allowing the plant to process carcasses under “continued strict conditions”.

“This next step in the CFIA’s staged approach will allow CFIA experts to fully assess the facility’s e. coli safeguards in action,” the agency noted. “The plant will not be permitted to resume normal operation until the CFIA confirms in writing that it is safe to do so.”

A review on 9 October found that all areas of the plant had been cleaned and sanitised. As a result, the plant will be allowed to process carcasses currently present in the facility that have tested negative by CFIA for E. coli.

Earlier this month, Canada suspended the plant’s licence to export beef to the US, after initially being alerted by authorities there to a positive e. coli reading in beef trimmings. Concerns have since spread to Canada.

XL Foods did go some way to improve checks at its Alberta plant but CFIA said it did not go far enough. “The company was unable to demonstrate through its documentation that it was consistently and effectively implementing its agreed upon control programme,” said the watchdog.

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According to reports, XL Foods has said it has “corrected deficiencies” at the plant and is working with federal inspectors to get the facility reopened. The company, however, could not be contacted for comment.

Nevertheless, the union representing more than 2,200 workers at the facility has raised concerns that XL Foods has yet to address “excessively high speeds” on the production line that may have led to carcasses becoming contaminated with a potentially-fatal bacteria.

“There is a desperate need for an improved culture of food safety at the plant,” UFCW Local 401 said. “There is a culture of fear of reprisal by the company if the workers raise concerns over food safety.”

At a press conference on yesterday, Doug O’Halloran, president of the union told reporters it has union has “repeatedly” asked XL Foods for changes that would improve food safety at the plant.

“Workers at XL Foods in Brooks want to be part of the solution,” said O’Halloran. “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.”

The union suggested that if the culture of food safety by upper management and ownership of XL Beef in Brooks doesn’t change, that it will be “forced to push for new ownership in order to protect the public on food safety issues as well as the workers jobs at XL Beef in Brooks”.

“XL has one chance to get it right,” O’Halloran said.

Reports in Canada have said twelve cases of sickness have been linked to the contamination.