Food safety inspectors said 4.4bn pounds of Canadian meat and poultry below safety standards could have made its way to US consumers, reported the Associated Press (AP).

According to the reports, the food reached grocery stores and restaurants in the US, despite official government warnings that Canada wasn't doing enough to assure the safety of its food products.

The Agriculture Department told the AP on Monday it had addressed problems at individual Canadian plants, some of which lost export privileges. "In no instance was public health placed at risk," said Richard Raymond, undersecretary for food safety.

Meanwhile, Canada has altered its safety monitoring system in an attempt to comply with rules and continued as the US' leading foreign supplier of fresh and frozen red meat.

In a November 2003, a memo to then-secretary of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, Ann Veneman, warned that public health could be compromised if the agency didn't respond immediately to deficiencies in Canada's system.

Food safety officials postponed a review of Canada's system the following year but when FSIS officials returned to Canada in May 2005, they continued to find the same types of deficiencies they found in 2003.

Problems included inspections not being done daily at Canadian food processing plants, lacking adequate sanitation controls and inspectors not sampling ready-to-eat products for listeria.

Canada has made changes since last year and daily inspections have been carried out at processing plants since late summer, a Canadian Food Inspection Agency official told the AP.