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Cattle in pasture beside XL Foods' Lakeside Packers plant at Brooks, Alta., onOct. 1, 2012. (LARRY MACDOUGAL/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Cattle in pasture beside XL Foods' Lakeside Packers plant at Brooks, Alta., onOct. 1, 2012. (LARRY MACDOUGAL/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Alberta beef plant resumes partial operations Add to ...

XL Foods has begun to bring its staff back to work, a sign the company at the centre of a massive beef recall is resuming partial operations as it pushes for CFIA approval to fully resume production.

Meat processing staff – who cut the carcasses that have already been slaughtered, cleaned and cooled – were called back to work late Wednesday for the Thursday morning shift at the massive slaughterhouse in Brooks, Alta. Processing staff for the afternoon shift were left on call.

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All slaughter workers – who kill and prepare the cows on the so-called “kill floor” – weren’t called into work Thursday, but may be as soon as Friday, the company told them Wednesday evening.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said earlier Wednesday that the plant, which he visited before dawn Wednesday, won’t reopen until he and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are satisfied the plant’s operations are up to standard. A department official said earlier in the day that the plant would not reopen Thursday.

“CFIA has deployed additional resources to the plant to ensure Canadian consumers and their families are protected,” Mr. Ritz said at a Calgary news conference earlier in the day.

Contacted Wednesday evening, a CFIA spokesman had no information about the workers’ recall.

XL Foods and its co-CEOs, Brian and Lee Nilsson, haven’t returned repeated requests for comment this week.

The vast majority of the plant’s 2,200 staff – all except maintenance workers, cleaners and management – have been off duty since the CFIA pulled the plant’s license last week. That came 11 days after a recall that now includes more 1500 products, the largest beef recall in Canadian history.

Alberta officials are investigating nine cases of E. coli illnesses, four of which have been definitively linked to beef that passed through XL before being sold at an Edmonton Costco. Saskatchewan is investigating 13 cases in September, an unusually high number, though none have been confirmed to be linked to the beef recall.

The problem has been traced to an Aug. 23 slaughter at the Brooks facility, as well as five subsequent production days. American officials first noticed a problem on Sept. 3, with Canadian officials recording their own positive test for E. coli a day later. On Sept. 6, the CFIA demanded test results from XL Foods, which took five days to deliver them. By that time, people had already fallen ill.

The recall has triggered a firestorm, with the House of Commons holding an emergency debate on the issue Wednesday evening.

Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

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