In 2012, XL Foods in Alberta sickened at least 18 people with E. coli O157:H7, and led to the largest beef recall in Canadian history; the huge slaughterhouse was subsequently bought by JBS of Brazil.
An independent review panel concluded the outbreak was cause by mediocrity both at the plant and government overseers.
So when the new Canadian president for JBS told an ol’ timey meet-and-greet tour he wouldn’t reveal E. coli incidence rates and that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has that figure and JBS is accountable to them, it doesn’t inspire confidence.
Van Solkema said now, six months after the change of ownership, there are four times fewer positive E. coli samples showing up in in-plant tests.
Alberta Liberal health critic Dr. David Swann — who visited the plant under its previous ownership when he was Medical Officer of Health — told the Calgary Herald in general, he was impressed by what he saw Friday.
But Swann also seems to get it, that to build trust and have consumers buy a product, some are going to want to know things, like how often the production line needs to be slowed or halted for one reason or another, how many samples test positive for E. coli contamination, and how much meat is thrown away each month.
“We need to have some kind of objective measures to say this is a safer plant or a safer product than any others,” Swann said. “We need more numbers — injury rate, E. coli rate, throwaway rate, and high-speed line infraction. That would be helpful for everybody, to know that the plant is operating at high levels.”
Having a slaughterhouse president and government inspectors say they are doing a bang-up job, in the absence of any public data, is meaningless.
The JBS plant at Brooks has 2,400 employees and processes 3,800 cattle each day. The plant produces 250 different beef products — the majority of which is shipped to Canadian customers. Beef from Brooks also goes to other markets, including the U.S., Mexico, Egypt, and Asia.