Food safety officials say millions of kilograms of beef from an Alberta plant involved in an E. coli scare are in storage and some of the meat could show up on dinner tables if it is deemed safe.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says 5.5 million kilograms of beef that never went to market is being held in warehouses. The meat does not include any of the products that have been recalled by XL Foods in Brooks since last month.
The agency says the slaughter house may be allowed to send some of the beef to market if it is cooked at a high enough temperature to kill off any possible E. coli.
"It could go to rendering. It could go to landfills or it could go to cooking," Harpreet Kochhar, a CFIA executive director, said Friday in a teleconference. "But no meat enters the food supply unless we have actually tested it and we make sure that it is safe."
The agency says it doesn't know how much recalled beef there is in Canada by weight. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 1.1 million kilograms of XL Foods beef has been recalled from stores in the United States.
CFIA vice-president Paul Mayers said the company must submit a plan to the agency for approval for what it wants to do with the mountain of meat.
Products that have been returned by consumers aren't eligible to be resold, he said. But unsold products that were recalled and that were under the control of distributors and retailers may be.
"Where product has remained in a control chain, options can be considered around the return of that product to a marketable state," Mr. Mayers said.
He referred to such beef as "reconditioned."
"Where product has left that control chain and we cannot therefore have confidence in the integrity of that product, then that is not a viable option."
The agency also said Friday that tests on beef cut earlier this week during an inspection came back negative for E. coli, which has made 16 people sick in four provinces.
The CFIA is now turning an eye to the actual work done during the inspection. That includes reviewing how workers cut and deboned beef carcasses, specific E. coli controls, meat hygiene, sampling techniques and overall sanitation.
"These findings, including a plan for next steps, will be finalized over the weekend," Mr. Mayers said.
"We know everyone is eager to have this work completed – and we are certainly moving ahead as quickly as possible – but must remain focused on the need to protect consumers."
There is no timeline on when the plant may be able to resume slaughtering cattle or shipping beef to market.
More than 1,800 products that originated at the plant have been recalled from dozens of retailers in Canada and the United States.
The plant has been closed since Sept. 27. The U.S. has not allowed any beef from XL into the country since Sept. 13.