September 28, 2012 / 11:03 AM / in 5 years

Canada temporarily shuts plant linked to tainted beef

(Reuters) - The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has temporarily shut a meatpacking plant linked to contaminated beef products that have sickened several people and been distributed across Canada and the United States.

The operators of privately held XL Foods' plant in Brooks, Alberta have not done enough to prevent contamination by E. coli bacteria, the CFIA said on Friday.

"All products currently at this plant are under CFIA detention and control," the agency said in a statement. "XL Foods Inc will not resume operations until they have demonstrated that they have fully implemented CFIA's required corrective actions."

Several people have been sickened after eating steaks believed to have been contaminated with E. coli, which were bought at a Costco Wholesale Corp store in Edmonton, Alberta. The supplier of the tainted meat has not been identified.

XL Foods said on Wednesday there was no definitive link between its products and the cases of illness. The company's officials could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service expanded a public health alert about potentially tainted beef from the plant, that may have made its way to U.S. grocery stores in more than 30 states, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Safeway. XL Foods is recalling the products, which include steaks, roasts and ground beef.

The United States halted imports of beef products from the XL Foods plant on September 13.

VOLUNTARY RECALL

Beginning early in September, XL Foods had voluntarily recalled more than 250 beef products made at the plant after positive findings of E. coli. CFIA said it would recall more products over the next few days as it traces their movement.

E. coli bacteria can cause serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses, and is often present at slaughter plants. Processors are required to monitor for higher-than-normal detection rates and to take additional measures as necessary.

The CFIA's review of the plant's food safety controls found XL Foods could not prove that it regularly updated its plan to control E. coli, the agency said.

XL Foods took some steps this month to increase food safety, but the CFIA concluded they were not enough.

XL is one of the two biggest beef processors in Canada, with the other giant being U.S. agribusiness Cargill Ltd.

The shutdown of XL's Brooks plant will weaken Western Canadian cattle prices, and limit farmers' options for cattle sales, said Alberta rancher Travis Toews.

"If this situation persists for any length of time, cattle will get backed up," he said, adding it was fortunate there weren't large numbers of cattle headed for slaughter at this time of year.

"Our hope is that whatever issue requires correction will get corrected quickly and they'll be back in business."

XL is owned by Canadian company Nilsson Brothers Inc, which also owns auction marts, ranches and other farm businesses in Alberta.

Canada is the sixth-largest beef and veal exporter in the world.

Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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