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Problems remain at XL Foods meat-packing plant: union

Cows graze near the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta.

Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Despite XL Foods's assertions that problems have been fixed at the meat-packing company at the centre of the tainted beef recall, the union representing the plant's workers says food safety issues remain.

Doug O'Halloran, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said there is a "desperate need" for an improved culture of food safety at the plant.

"Workers at XL Foods in Brooks want to be part of the solution," he said in a news release. "They're going to be back at work in a few days, but nothing has been done to address the issues that led to this problem."

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Mr. O'Halloran, who has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday afternoon in Brooks, Alta., cited concerns relating to training for temporary foreign workers, line speed and a need to protect whistleblowers.

CFIA inspectors were in Brooks on Tuesday for a pre-inspection of the facility, which processes more than one-third of Canada's beef.

The plant's production lines have been shut down since Sept. 26, more than three weeks after E. coli was first detected. No date has been set for the facility to reopen.

At least 11 people across Canada have fallen ill as a result of eating meat processed at XL and the outbreak has prompted the biggest recall of beef in Canadian history.

On Tuesday, Brian Nilsson, CEO of XL Foods, said the meat packer has taken all of the actions demanded by the CFIA.

Problems cited by the CFIA include: Refrigerators were not being cleaned according to the company's own specifications; a drain was emitting a foul odour; sanitizer was dripping onto product; the evisceration table thermometer was not functioning properly; some employees were not wearing beard nets; employees were sorting trimmed beef and then touching contaminated meat without following the appropriate washing procedures.

In addition, the company's own control plan was not fully implemented or regularly updated. There was a lack of written direction provided to employees about the steps to be followed after a positive test for E. coli; positive samples were inconsistently analyzed to detect trends; there were deficiencies in sampling techniques and there was insufficient record-keeping.

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The CFIA says it first asked for documentation from XL related to its testing results and product distribution when the bacteria was initially noticed on Sept. 4. It followed up with written requests on Sept. 6 and Sept. 7. But it was not until Sept. 10 and Sept. 11 that the company complied, and, even then, the documents were not delivered in a usable form.

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