The union representing XL Foods workers, as well as several former and current employees, say food safety was regularly jeopardized inside the Brooks, Alta.-based plant at the centre of an E. coli scare.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency shut down the Alberta plant last week, and its licence to operate the plant was temporarily suspended in the midst of a nationwide meat recall.
Tom Hesse with the United Food and Commercial Workers said the union has heard from employees about problems that could lead to tainted meat.
"Some [workers] are saying to us, ‘No, I wouldn't eat the product that's produced in my own workplace’,” said Hesse. "They tell us that management has a general lack of concern for food safety practices."
The union held a special meeting with about a dozen XL Foods workers this week.
There were reports that workers didn't sterilize their knives between cuts and if they did, they couldn't keep up with the workflow, said Hesse.
Management, he said, turned a blind eye.
One man who worked for an industrial company that had a contract with XL Foods told CBC News that he saw an employee go into the washroom wearing his protective gear during one of his trips to the plant.
"Throwing it on the washroom floor in front of all the urinals and relieving himself and then picking up his garments off the floor. Picking up his scabbord with his knives off the floor and then returning to the production facility," said the man, whose identity the CBC agreed to conceal.
XL Foods Inc. said in a press release Thursday it was taking "full responsibility" and is working to "implement changes to our food safety system to exceed existing high standards and regain the trust of Canadian consumers," including enhanced testing.
Cleaning equipment reportedly clogged
CBC News has also spoken with several current and former XL Foods employees who said they also saw safety concerns prior to the meat recall.
Former employee Kyle Sailikin, who now operates a butcher shop in rural Saskatchewan, said cleaning equipment would frequently get clogged at the plant, but the company had other concerns.
"Processing came first, all times," he said. "That was No. 1, was processing. It wasn't cleaning, it wasn't safety, it wasn't the people working there. It was processing."
Other employees described unhygienic behaviour, including workers on the line not washing hands and wearing contaminated clothing into areas which should have been kept clean.
Hesse said he was told at the union meeting that there are also claims that bosses are reluctant to stop the line when problems are found.
"[Workers] told us that shortly before the CFIA shut the plant down there was a sewage back up on both the slaughter and process floor,” said Hesse. "That's obviously a serious issue in terms of food safety.
"They're saying that XL is more concerned with the numbers they can produce rather than the safety of the workers or the safety of the product."
Since the recall began, XL Foods has not agreed to any interviews.
The company's Thursday press release also outlined changes to its food safety system that include more surveillance, more staff and better training.
Meanwhile, dozens of people have joined a class-action lawsuit against XL Foods, according to a lawyer acting for a man who became sick from E. coli after eating a steak that came via the company's Brooks plant.
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Sheila Gunn Reid
Cows are slaughtered at XL Foods Inc. plant in Brooks, Alta. Beef slaughtered that day will later be recalled.
August 24, 27, 28 & 29
Beef processed at the Brooks facility on these days is later recalled.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is alerted by U.S. officials that beef from the Brooks plant has tested positive for E. coli bacteria. An investigation begins.
Four consumers who bought Kirkland Signature brand strip loin grilling steaks from Edmonton Costco at 13650 50th St. N.E. later become ill.
A Calgary girl, 4, is hospitalized for symptoms caused by E. coli bacteria.
September 11 & 12
Four in Edmonton who ate Kirkland strip loin steak seek medical for symptoms of E. coli poisoning. Two went to hospital but all four are recovering.
The CFIA issues their first warning, telling people not to eat, sell or serve 26 ground beef/ground-beef products sold at several major stores because they “may be contaminated with E. coli.” Although XL Foods Inc. voluntarily issued the recall, no reported illnesses have been linked to this recall.
55 more ground beef and ground-beef products are added to the list of products recalled across Canada. All were manufactured at the XL plant in Brooks, Alta.
Fourteen more products are added to the recall list.
XL Foods releases a statement saying XL Foods prides itself on providing safe and high quality beef products. Meanwhile, the recall list by the CFIA grows to add 75 more items.
The United States Food Safety and Inspection Service issues a public-health alert, while the CFIA adds another 37 products to the recall.
Another 47 products are added to the recall.
Another 10 products are added to the recall.
An in-depth review uncovers “several deficiencies” during an investigation into the Brooks facility.
- 60 products to the Canadian recall. - U.S. recalls products in California, Oregon, Michigan, Nebraska, Utah, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. - Alberta Health Services (AHS) investigate a total of eight E. coli cases - four in Edmonton, three in Calgary and one in central Alberta. The tests confirm Edmonton patients were infected by E. coli-tainted steaks bought at Costco. The CFIA is notified about the test results.
- The CFIA recalls Kirkland steaks packaged and sold September 4-7 from the Edmonton Costco. - It is confirmed the steaks were processed by XL Foods Inc. in Brooks. - Costco stores are asked by top doctors to stop using a meat-tenderizing machine that could potentially move E. coli bacteria from the surface of the meat to the centre. - Ten states are now affected by the The United States Food Safety and Inspection Service recall.
AHS investigates a fourth case of E. coli in Calgary. AHS is investigating what caused E. coli poisoning in the Calgary patient and the central Alberta patient.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspends the operating licence of XL Foods' Brooks plant.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspends the operating licence of XL Foods' Brooks plant
There was no initial reason to order a public recall or shut down the XL Foods facility in Brooks, say officials from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, defending their delay in alerting the public.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency comes under fire. Alberta Premier Alison Redford and NDP MP Linda Duncan question the delay in alert.
The Canadian Cattlemen's Association says it's possible federal regulators will clear the XL Foods beef plant to resume operations by next week but the real challenge will be getting U.S. to accept beef exports from the plant again.
The beef recall expanded to Co-Op, Metro and Walmart stores in Canada.
The beef recall gets expanded to include dozens of cuts of meat.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford says Alberta beef is safe and that the province breeds a high quality product with the highest standards possible.
The Liberals and the NDP gang up on the Conservative government over the safety of Canada's meat supply.
Beef recall is expanded again. This time to include dozens of additional products including roasts and sausages.
The XL Foods beef recall gets expanded to B.C. More than 20 B.C. retail chains pull beef products from their shelves as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency continues to expand the recall from the plant.
The XL foods beef recall becomes the biggest beef recall in Canadian history.
XL Foods finally breaks silence, issuing a press release in which they took responsibility for the circumstances that led to the recalls. Not much was made available in terms of explanation or courses of action. Meanwhile, the recall is expanded yet again.
Workers at the XL plant in Brooks speak out and what they have to say is not pretty. They describe high output demands, low staffing levels of disgusting hygiene issues. Meanwhile, the CFIA says the plant failed to maintain or update it's E. coli plan.
Five new E. coli cases are linked to the tainted meat. Recall expands again.
The beef recall, the largest in Canadian history, got much bigger with meats being pulled off shelves in Hong Kong.
Federal inspectors begin a detailed assessment of the Brooks XL Foods Plant. The investigation would last weeks.
This little baby starts making its rounds... Meanwhile, the union at the plant said it was a case of greed over health that led to the massive recall and claim the plant is nowhere near safe.
A partial reopening of the plant is considered and Alberta Premier Alison Redford rejects calls for a provincial inquiry into the recall.
The U.S. announces it will audit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, as Quebec E. coli cases are linked to the Alberta plant and new E. coli cases are confirmed in B.C.
2,000 workers at the XL Foods plant in Brooks are temporarily laid off.
800 of the 2,000 workers temporarily laid off the day before are recalled so that CFIA can continue its investigation in the plant.
JBS USA announce they're taking over the management of the plant and reserve the option to purchase XL Foods. Earlier that day, workers at the plant were laid off again, as the recall of beef products expands yet again.
Also on the 17th, B.C. residents announce their intent to sue XL Foods over E. coli-tainted meat, as Brooks declares itself in a state of crisis due to the thousands of workers, many of them of foreign origin and of modest means, are left without income and in need of services.
JBS USA announces it intends to work with the union and the community to fix the conditions in the plant that led to the massive beef recalls.
The CFIA announces that some of the meat stored in warehouses after the recalls may end up on your dinner table once the recalls end. Meanwhile, remaining carcasses at the plant test negative for E. coli.
Tons of meant from the XL Foods plant is tossed into Alberta landfills.
Former XL Foods manager says CFIA inspectors require better training. Later that afternoon, it is announced that all workers would return to the plant on Oct. 29 for further training and to partially reopen the beleaguered plant.
JBS CEO Bill Rupp addressed the Brooks plant, the community and the media and vowed that safety at the plant would be the number one priority, adding the culture at the plant would change for the better.
Production at the XL Foods plant in Brooks resumes for the first time since E. Coli tainted meat from the plant resulted in the largest Canadian beef recall in history.
R-CALF, a U.S. ranchers lobby group, asks U.S. courts to block the possible sale of the Brools XL Foods plant to JBS USA, which is at the time managing the plant but which has reserved the option to buy the Alberta facility, as well as some U.S. plants. (Getty)
Another case of E. coli is linked to the XL Foods Inc. plant in Alberta. The Public Health Agency of Canada says the case was in Quebec, bringing the total number of confirmed cases across the country to 17.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency discloses that its staff observed a number of problems at XL Foods the previous week, as the plant worked to get back to normal operations. They included meat areas that weren't adequately cleaned and water sanitizer that wasn't maintained at a high enough temperature.
The total number of e-coli cases across the country linked to the XL Foods Brooks plant climbs to 18. The Public Health Agency of Canada said the new case is in Alberta.