Market food safety: Can big meat get it?

If companies don’t tell their story, they leave themselves vulnerable to others, who will gladly tell their version of the story.

JBS-Meat-Cooler-590x332NPR says that food companies the world over are paying close attention to the groundswell of support for food transparency, the “know where your food comes from” movement.

JBS, the largest meat producer in the world, is beginning to take notice as well.

But executives with JBS USA, the North American arm of its Brazilian parent company, at the same time acknowledge that the very nature of their business is grisly, gory and sometimes unpalatable.

“Part of you says, ‘I need to learn how to bring the packing house into the consumer’s living room,'” says Bill Rupp, president of the company’s beef division. “Then at the same time, you think of all the pitfalls of trying to explain to consumers how we harvest their meat.”

“I think in today’s society, the consumer wants to know more and more where their food comes from. And food companies are slowly adopting toward that,” says Cameron Bruett, JBS USA spokesman. “But I think we need to do a better job.”

JBS owns numerous plants cross the Midwest, South and West of the U.S., as well as worldwide. The JBS meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colo., is an imposing building. Conveyor belts snake through the concrete structure. But it’s not an assembly line. Workers in blood-spattered smocks disassemble cattle, breaking down whole animals into cuts of meat.

During a guided tour for journalists, the plant’s manager, Bill Danley, points to a line of men carving the animal’s head. “These guys here, what they’re doing is, they’re taking the cheek meat off,” Danley says. “There’s head meat on top of that. A lot of your taco filler is made out of cheek meat and head meat.”

Taco meat is just the beginning. This one cow is destined to be sirloin at steakhouses, ground hamburger at local grocery stores and leather for car seats.

JBS spokesman Bruett says for a long time, beef has been a commodity, shipped out from meatpacking plants in boxes and rebranded at grocery stores and restaurants. Bruett says when your immediate customers are other businesses, there’s little value in telling your story.


Double secret probation: ‘Special team’ to check work of CFIA inspectors

Health Minister Rona Ambrose is sending a special team to check the work of nearly 40 Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors at a meat processing plant in Alberta.

“I’m going to send them in to make sure everything is okay,” Ambrose said during question period Thursday, after NDP MP Laurin Liu said Canadians are at risk because of inadequate E. coli testing.

CTV News first reported Wednesday on government documents that show meat tainted with E. coli bacteria from the plant in Brooks, Alta., was detected by U.S. food inspectors in 2014.

That was two years after the government shut down the plant – formerly operated by XL Foods – after at least 18 people were sickened by meat containing the bacteria.

The documents also noted hygiene concerns, including employees standing in “two to three inches of pooling blood and contaminated water,” lack of running water in the bathroom sinks, and unflushed toilets with fecal matter.

JBS Foods, the Brazil-based company that now owns the plant, said any problems indicated in the inspections have been resolved.

Ambrose said that a 2014 Conference Board of Canada report that ranked Canada’s food inspection system first among 17 industrialized countries is proof the CFIA is “doing an excellent job.”

It’s proof politicians will cite bogus studies and believe their own press releases.

Metal tip found in Calgary boy’s burger may be meat tenderizing needle: expert

Needle or mechanically tenderized beef can introduce shiga-toxin producing E. coli like O157 into the center of a steak, rendering it not safe if undercooked, but what about the actual needle?

needle.tenderize.crJames Deane, who is six, was eating a hamburger made from meat purchased from Costco on Wednesday night in Calgary when he bit into a piece of metal which looks like the tip of a needle.

Domenic Pedulla, president of Canadian Food Safety Group, says meat is injected with brine or flavouring a lot of times because they’re using a lower quality or tough cut.

James’ father, Mike Deane, contacted Costco and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency after finding the needle.

Costco confirms the meat was purchased at its south Calgary store, and has started an investigation with the supplier, JBS Food Canada, Inc., which has a plant in Brooks, Alta.

JBS says it is aware of the allegations and is co-operating with the investigation.

Pedulla says processors run their products through metal detectors to avoid such situations.

He says foreign objects in food are becoming less common “because processors are tightening up their procedures and the technology is getting better.”

Data? You can’t handle data; trust us we’re doing better

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 you.cant.handle.truththat 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.


XL bails, to be managed by JBS after E. coli mess

Food safety ain’t simple, it’s hard.

So over a month after reports of illness and E. coli O157 positive samples started rolling in, weeks of outrage, political incompetence, condescending statements and corporate silence, and barely a mention of the sick people, the owners of the XL plant in Alberta have decided food safety is hard, and agreed to be managed by Brazilian-owned JBS USA.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 president Doug O’Halloran told the Globe and Mail, “I think that, initially, it’s a good thing. I’ve been saying from the beginning that they either need new management or new ownership, because the Nilsson brothers were obviously out of their league in running this company.”

So if they were out of their league, why didn’t those 40 inspectors and six veterinarians notice over the years?

Apparently the Americans noticed.

The Ottawa Citizen reports inspectors with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) sent a series of audit reports to the CFIA between 2003 and 2008 detailing deficiencies they had found at Canadian processing plants, including XL Foods facilities.

These audit reports list findings at XL Foods plants that included sloppy record-keeping, equipment held together by duct tape and, in one case, a gruesome scene of animal blood dripping into edible meat products.

One audit in 2003 found non-compliance with food safety procedures serious enough that the company was temporarily delisted as an approved exporter to the U.S.

XL Foods did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Richard Arsenault, the agency’s director of the CFIA’s meat programs division, cautioned against reading too much into findings in the U.S. audits, stating,

“The writing of these reports often lends itself to conclusions that don’t reflect the overall system. Making sure everything is impeccably clean all the time is not the easiest thing to do. Plants are always going to have challenges.”

Good to know CFIA is on the job.

Three years ago, Brian and Lee Nilsson paid $145 million US to buy the Brooks packing facility and adjacent feedlot and fertilizer operations that made Edmonton-based XL Foods Inc. Canada’s largest domestically owned meat processor.

But amid the country’s biggest ever beef recall, the brothers are now handing the keys for their shuttered plant to multinational protein processer JBS USA, and offering to sell those assets, plus a packing plant in Nebraska and two other closed facilities in Calgary and Nampa, Idaho, to the industry giant for just $100 million US.

According to, beef industry experts saw JBS USA’s deal to first manage the Alberta, Canada XL Foods plant embroiled in a massive recall, then possibly purchase four plants, a feedlot and farmland for $100 million, as a brilliant stroke with very little downside.

“Its flat-out like finding a diamond ring and it fits your hand,” said one U.S. beef processing executive, noting the plants JBS stands to gain are modern facilities that will take little to no investment to continue operations. “Its as big a coup as I’ve seen in a long time. …

If anyone had the opportunity to buy 45 percent of all the beef in Canada in one afternoon without bidding against another company, I’d say that’s a hell of a deal,” said the beef industry executive, estimating the properties could have commanded $200 million or even $300 million before the recall.”

JBS adopts video auditing at US beef plants

In April 2009, Cargill Beef announced it had implemented a third-party video-auditing system that would operate 24 hours a day at its U.S. beef plants to enhance the company’s animal welfare protection systems. All of Cargill’s U.S. plants were expected to have the program in place by the end of 2009.

In Feb. 2010, Cargill announced its expanded remote video auditing program will monitor food-safety procedures within its 10 beef-harvest facilities in North America.

Angie Siemens, Cargill technical services vice president for food safety and quality, said,

“We’re working to eliminate the opportunity for cross-contamination. We want to have the right steps at the beginning of our process to enhance the efficacy of our intervention technologies later in the process. The major objective of the video auditing application is to design a ground-breaking program that can further reduce the E. coli and Salmonella contamination.”

Yesterday, reported that JBS USA’s beef division is installing remote video-surveillance camera systems at all of its eight beef plants to enhance food safety, product quality and animal handling.

John Ruby, head of technical services for JBS USA’s beef division, said in a news release the system helped the company improve the accuracy of its auditing within weeks of implementation. JBS uses the system to measure the performance of its workers and give them immediate feedback, ultimately helping to improve its food safety systems.