Over a month after E. coli O157 was linked to XL Foods, a slaughterhouse in Alberta, and sickened at least 12 people across Canada, one of the owners has finally made a public appearance and said sorry, it won’t happen again.
I want to know who stocks XL meat so next time I’m in North America, I’ll know not to buy it.
Michael McCain may have been praised for his risk communication prowess during the Listeria outbreak of 2008 that killed 23, but basic food safety risk analysis is that it takes good assessment, management and communication to deliver safe food; fail at one, fail at all. Maple Leaf screwed up at the assessment and management part, which made their communications lame (despite lotsa praise from people with lips firmly planted). I won’t buy Maple Leaf.
XL, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the inspectors’ union, outside auditors, buyers, retailers, and pretty much anyone involved in the Alberta-based outbreak have failed at assessment, management and communication.
According to Sarah Schmidt, 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. 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.
“We had an extensive testing program in the plant and it really was a surprise to us,” Nilsson told Postmedia.
Then do what Maple Leaf and the vaunted Michael McCain never did; stop hiding behind government inspection; make food safety data public rather than keep it hidden; advocate for labeling on needle tenderized roasts and steaks, and install video to prove that your employees are doing what you say they do.