Food safety officials in Ottawa insist there was no initial reason to order a public recall or shut down the Alberta meat-packing facility at the centre of a widening tainted-beef scare.
Brian Evans of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency says when testing in the U.S. and Canada first detected a possible E. coli issue on Sept. 4, there was nothing to indicate that any tainted meat had reached store shelves.
He says there was no point in issuing a public recall, since there was nothing to recall.
It took 12 more days of ongoing investigation and testing before CFIA came to the conclusion that it needed to shut the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta.
He says investigators in the plant are working around the clock, “pedal to the metal,” in order to pinpoint the source of the outbreak.
XL Foods has had its operating licence temporarily suspended and won’t resume operations until it has taken the steps necessary to ensure its products are free of E. coli.
Evans said the problem appears to be the result of a number of different factors, none of which would by themselves normally pose a problem, combining to create a heightened risk,
He said XL Foods has not yet taken the steps necessary to allow it to resume operations, and won’t be allowed to do so until it does.
Evans says all products currently at the plant are “under CFIA detention and control,” and will be released only after being tested for E. coli.
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended its public health alert about the company’s beef to stores in 30 states, including retail giant Walmart.
Canada revoked the plant’s permit to export beef to the U.S. on Sept. 13 at the request of the U.S.D.A.
Since Sept. 16, the CFIA has issued at least eight recall alerts for XL Foods ground beef products over E. coli concerns.