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Cattle look out from their pen on a feedlot near Airdrie, Alta., on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2005.JEFF MCINTOSH/The Canadian Press

Workers called into the XL Foods plant Wednesday evening were told the next day to stay home, a setback that marks the latest development as the plant continues to prepare to reopen under the eye of federal officials.

The company – in local radio ads and recorded messages – said Wednesday evening some workers from the "A shift" were being called back Thursday morning. The news swamped the company's phone lines. Those from the "B shift," which starts at 4 p.m., were told to check back after 11 a.m. local time Thursday.

On Thursday morning, though, the message had changed – they now weren't needed Thursday after all, but may be needed Friday.

The staff initially called in worked in the "production" area, which handles carcasses that have already been killed, cleaned and cooled. Those who work on the slaughter floor weren't recalled.

Since Sept. 27, only maintenance staff (who have been replacing fixtures, such as wall panels and hoses), cleaners and management had been working.

Wednesday evening's partial staff recall was a signal the plant was slowly starting some of its operations to demonstrate its production process under the eye of Canadian Food Inspection Authority investigators. It can only fully reopen with CFIA approval.

Agricultural minister Gerry Ritz responded to a Globe and Mail story Thursday by calling it "false," but didn't address its content. He said only that the plant won't reopen Thursday, though there hadn't been any indication it would.

He didn't say why the staff were initially recalled, or why the company changed its mind Thursday, or why slaughter workers are being told they could be called back as soon as Friday.

A message sent Wednesday to Mr. Ritz's spokeswoman, asking why the workers were being recalled, received no response before the minister's statement.

Several dozen vehicles streamed into the plant Thursday morning, and smoke billowed from the facility. XL Foods hasn't responded to Globe requests to access the slaughterhouse, and ordered a reporter off the property Wednesday.

Mr. Ritz visited the plant briefly early Wednesday morning, before departing for Calgary and then Ottawa.

Alberta's government has called for the plant to reopen "as soon as possible," as soon as this week.