The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it has not yet reissued a licence for the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., at the centre of an international beef recall for E. coli contamination — despite a report from the union that the plant will reopen on Oct. 29.
More than 1,800 products have been recalled from the plant, and 16 people got sick after eating contaminated meat from the facility.
A CFIA spokesperson says an announcement about the licence is "on the horizon," but the food agency is finishing a review of hygiene, meat-handling and sanitation procedures at the southern Alberta plant and no date has been set for the plant's reopening.
CFIA officials said test samples from meat processed at the plant last week as part of its assessment came back free of E. coli.
The union representing roughly 2,000 employees who were temporarily laid off at the plant says workers have been asked back for training this week and the company wants them back at work next week.
"My understanding is they are going to be calling in people today and tomorrow to get their badges," said Doug O'Halloran of the United Food and Commercial Workers.
"And then they are going to be doing some training the rest of the week and that they look like they'll be up and running in some way for [Oct. 29]."
O'Halloran said union officials are set to meet Tuesday with industrial relations staff from JBS USA, the company taking over management of the embattled meat plant.
New managers to meet staff
JBS USA officials are also set to meet with XL Foods employees in Brooks in groups of 100 to talk about plans for the plant, which has been closed since Sept. 27.
Reaching out to the workforce and union is a positive sign for the future of Canada's second-largest beef operation, O'Halloran suggested.
"It's certainly a step in the right direction, because we've had no communication with XL, so the fact that JBS has reached out and wants to have a discussion I think bodes well," O'Halloran said.
"We certainly have some questions going forward about what their [JBS] plans are … and right now we're sort of in limbo, not really knowing what to expect ... so we're quite interested in having a meeting and seeing what they have to say," O'Halloran said.
O'Halloran is still calling on Alberta Premier Alison Redford to have a public inquiry.
"Because it seems like it was the perfect storm," he said. "Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong and no one caught the bells and whistles going off.… It begs the question where has CFIA been for the last few months to let this happen."
O'Halloran said he is glad the CFIA is being careful about reissuing a licence for the plant through its multi-stage assessment process, because it should guarantee a clean plant when it does reopen.
But he also thinks the E. coli outbreak occurred in part because XL Foods was falling behind on its own practices and procedure, and there needs to be somebody making sure that food safety regulations are followed in the future.
"And hopefully CFIA can do that," said O'Halloran.
The CFIA also confirmed late last week that all the beef from the extensive recall is being dumped at a landfill.