An Alberta meat-processing plant at the centre of Canada's largest beef recall was ordered to address serious problems six times in the months leading up to an E. coli outbreak last summer, documents obtained by CBC News show.

The issues identified by Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors at the Brooks plant, known as Establishment 38, included:

- Failure to sanitize cutting tools and workspaces.

- Improper labelling.

- Mixing of edible and inedible parts of carcasses.

- Lapses in building maintenance that saw condensation from pipes dripping onto carcasses.

The details are contained in six Corrective Action Requests (CARs) and followup reports obtained by CBC News under Access to Information requests.

The XL Foods plant's licence was suspended on Sept. 27 because of concerns about E. coli contamination and deficiencies identified by the CFIA at the facility.

The suspension came weeks after an alert was issued by U.S. inspectors who discovered the presence of E. coli in a shipment of beef from XL Foods. At least 18 people were made ill from meat traced to the plant, and a recall expanded to more than 1,500 products while tonnes of beef from the plant had to be destroyed.

CARs are issued by CFIA inspectors in a plant when a formal response is required from the company "to ensure changes that are needed to be taken to allow the facility to be in compliance with the various federal acts and regulations are completed," according to the CFIA.

An in-depth investigation carried out after the detection of E. coli in September resulted in six more CARs being issued and completed before the plant was allowed to open in late October.

But the CARs released Monday show problems had been identified at the plant months earlier.

A CAR issued on Feb. 14 cited improper building maintenance, including a blast freezer door that did not properly close, exposed insulation, a missing seal on a washroom door and other violations, while also noting that earlier work orders issued to fix some of the problems had not been carried out. A month later, following an extension, a followup report found the issues had been addressed. The serial number for this CAR suggests the concerns dated to 2011.

5 more CARs issued

After that, starting in May, five more CARs were issued, mostly due to violations of sanitation and operational procedures. These included:

- A May 5 inspection that found "cows and bulls dragging on equipment wash platform" in around the pre-break room, improper sanitation of the saw used to cut the necks of the animals, "necks and shanks" pulled over buckets of inedible byproducts, use of unlabelled sanitary spray bottles and contamination of carcasses. Followup inspections found continued problems.

- A June 7 inspection that found poor monitoring of product labelling, and missing labels and paperwork for pallets and boxes of meat.

- A June 26 inspection that found workers were not properly washing cutting tools and hooks while cutting carcasses, and not cleaning contaminated carcasses before cutting them. The report says production was stopped for three minutes while "team members were removed and retrained before continuing." Another employee who was not sanitizing a knife between cuts through a hide was "removed and replaced."

- An Aug. 7 CAR reporting production was stopped for 35 minutes and 315 carcasses held back "for water dripping on carcasses" in the carcass-cooling room from "condensation formed and dripping from rails, pipes, refer drip pans and structure." In a followup inspection three days later, the CFIA inspector identified "plastic (sic) overflowing with unsanitary water and condensation dripping from rails/structures" in the killing room, and "initiated action to hold 765 carcasses from start of production until time of incident."

- An Aug. 20 inspection that raised concerns about employees' sanitation practices and sanitary conditions on cutting tools, computers, cutting boards, trim stations and floor areas.

CARs were 'effectively addressed,' CFIA says

The CFIA reports list both immediate actions taken by inspectors and followup plans to meet the corrective actions.

The followup reports indicate each of the CARs were closed within a week to five weeks of the orders being issued, and most involved retraining and interviewing of employees to ensure they understood proper sanitation and operational procedures.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the CFIA said "all of these CARs were effectively addressed by the company and were closed within the time-frame required by the CFIA."

"CFIA inspectors are in constant communication with plant management throughout the production day at federally registered meat establishments. When an inspector observes a potential issue of concern, they inform plant management," the statement said.

The XL Foods plant was allowed to reopen Oct. 23 under enhanced surveillance and increased testing protocols, with more than 46 CFIA inspectors assigned to monitor slaughter procedures.

JBS, the company that runs the XL Foods plant, said it had no comment because these issues came up before it took over the management of the plant in mid-October.

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  • August 23

    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.

  • September 23

    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.

  • Septemeber 4

    Four consumers who bought Kirkland Signature brand strip loin grilling steaks from Edmonton Costco at 13650 50th St. N.E. later become ill.

  • September 4

    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.

  • September 16

    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.

  • September 17

    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.

  • September 18

    Fourteen more products are added to the recall list.

  • September 19

    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.

  • September 20

    The United States Food Safety and Inspection Service issues a public-health alert, while the CFIA adds another 37 products to the recall.

  • September 21

    Another 47 products are added to the recall.

  • September 22

    Another 10 products are added to the recall.

  • September 24

    An in-depth review uncovers “several deficiencies” during an investigation into the Brooks facility.

  • September 25

    - 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.

  • Spetember 26

    - 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.

  • September 27

    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.

  • September 28

    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspends the operating licence of XL Foods' Brooks plant.

  • September 28

    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency suspends the operating licence of XL Foods' Brooks plant

  • September 28

    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.

  • September 28

    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency comes under fire. Alberta Premier Alison Redford and NDP MP Linda Duncan question the delay in alert.

  • September 28

    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.

  • September 29

    The beef recall expanded to Co-Op, Metro and Walmart stores in Canada.

  • September 30

    The beef recall gets expanded to include dozens of cuts of meat.

  • September 30

    Alberta Premier Alison Redford says Alberta beef is safe and that the province breeds a high quality product with the highest standards possible.

  • October 1

    The Liberals and the NDP gang up on the Conservative government over the safety of Canada's meat supply.

  • October 2

    Beef recall is expanded again. This time to include dozens of additional products including roasts and sausages.

  • October 2

    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.

  • October 2

    The XL foods beef recall becomes the biggest beef recall in Canadian history.

  • October 4

    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.

  • October 5

    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.

  • October 5

    Five new E. coli cases are linked to the tainted meat. Recall expands again.

  • October 8

    The beef recall, the largest in Canadian history, got much bigger with meats being pulled off shelves in Hong Kong.

  • October 9

    Federal inspectors begin a detailed assessment of the Brooks XL Foods Plant. The investigation would last weeks.

  • October 10

    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.

  • October 11

    A partial reopening of the plant is considered and Alberta Premier Alison Redford rejects calls for a provincial inquiry into the recall.

  • October 12

    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.

  • October 13

    2,000 workers at the XL Foods plant in Brooks are temporarily laid off.

  • October 14

    800 of the 2,000 workers temporarily laid off the day before are recalled so that CFIA can continue its investigation in the plant.

  • October 17

    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.

  • October 17

    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.

  • October 17

    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.

  • October 19

    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.

  • October 21

    Tons of meant from the XL Foods plant is tossed into Alberta landfills.

  • October 22

    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.

  • October 25

    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.

  • October 29

    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.

  • October 30

    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)

  • Nov. 1

    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.

  • Nov. 4

    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.

  • Nov. 14

    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.