Canada: new manager won't alter tainted beef plant review

Thu Oct 18, 2012 5:26pm EDT
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By Rod Nickel and Theopolis Waters

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Canadian government said on Thursday that management changes at an Alberta plant responsible for one of the country's biggest-ever meat recalls would not affect a nearly completed review of changes made to improve the plant's safety.

Canadian food inspectors are set to recommend this week when, or if, XL Foods' Lakeside beef processing plant in Brooks, Alberta, can reopen after E. coli contamination of its products sickened 15 people in Canada and prompted the recall of millions of pounds of beef.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which pulled privately held XL Foods' operating license on September 27, said "any change in management or ownership at XL will not affect our assessment."

JBS USA, a subsidiary of Brazil-based JBS SA, said late Wednesday it had signed a deal with XL Foods to manage the Brooks plant and had an option to purchase the Canadian and U.S. operations of XL Foods for $50 million in cash and $50 million in JBS SA shares.

The company, which would not assume XL Foods' debt or liabilities, said it would examine events carefully to work out what went wrong at the plant, which can process up to 4,500 head of cattle a day.

"We're going to have to sit down with XL and understand what has occurred in that facility to date and bring our expertise to assist in that situation," JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett said on Thursday.

"We have a very successful food safety track record and robust food safety program and we think that will be an asset to the facility."

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who has been under fire for the government's handling of the beef recall, also suggested nothing will change in the review timetable.   Continued...