The day after American officials pulled Alberta beef from store shelves in 30 states, Alberta’s Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson told media that he doesn’t see the incident having a long-term impact on the province’s food safety reputation.
"I have no hesitation in walking into a store and buying beef." - Alberta Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson
Beef from XL Foods Inc has been voluntarily recalled across Canada and the United States after possible E. Coli contamination. The initial recall on Sept. 16 has been expanded eight times to include ground beef sold across Alberta and Canada, as well as steaks from a north Edmonton Costco. Officials are unsure if the Costco steaks were contaminated at the XL Plant in Brooks or in-store.
Operations at the Brooks plant have since been suspended.
Olson told media Friday that while the recall and suspension is a serious incident, he cautions against assumptions the food security system in Canada has failed.
“This is a major plant for Canada and Alberta, but nonetheless we have other plants that are still producing great product. I have no hesitation in walking into a store and buying beef,” he said.
“We live in the real world here, and E. Coli exists in the real world. We’ve made great progress in reducing the incidents of E. Coli, but it’s a work in progress. … I’m not going to spend all of my time looking for people to throw under the bus. I just want the problem fixed and I want it fixed quickly.”
As the XL Foods plant is federally regulated, Albertan officials are not privy to investigation details, but Olson said he has been in contact with federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz as well as beef producers in the province.
“I think we’re all on the same page. We all agree that we need to maintain our reputation for protecting food safety. The rest flows from that,” he said.
Olson refused to speculate when the situation would be over, but called the suspension at XL Foods a ‘short-term stoppage.’
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has said online that they believe a number of deficiencies may have played a part in the contamination of the meat. They said that the facility may not have been properly analyzing data collected to monitor E. Coli and that control measures for meat that tested positive for E. Coli were not always being followed correctly.