10/25/2012 02:40 EDT | Updated 12/25/2012 05:12 EST

Shouldn't work for a jerk: new beef plant president welcomes input from workers

BROOKS, Alta. - The new managers of XL Foods Inc. say they are taking immediate steps to ensure that the troubled southern Alberta meat-packing plant can stay in operation.

They are also promising to listen to workers who have concerns about the way the plant will be run.

Bill Rupp, CEO of JBS USA's beef business in North America and Australia, told a news conference Thursday it is important to be accountable to the public. He added that workers shouldn't be afraid to speak up if they see something wrong.

"Nobody ought to have to work for a jerk, and I sit here as a reformed jerk, and I know I have jerk tendencies," Rupp said with a chuckle.

He said he wants to send a message through the organization.

"If someone's doing something wrong, or (something is) not performing to where it needs to be, you don't have to be a jerk to have that conversation."

XL Foods has been at the centre of a massive recall of tainted beef. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency restored the plant's operating licence this week and also launched a review of the E. coli crisis that made at least 16 people ill.

The CFIA has acknowledged that its control over food safety inside the nation's slaughterhouses has limits and it is up to companies such as XL Foods to honour their own safety plans.

Inspectors didn't detect sanitation, hygiene or reporting deficiencies in the facility until an outbreak of E. coli bacteria last month touched off one of the largest food recalls in Canadian history.

"Our job here is not to rehash the past or talk about what occurred there or why it occurred," said JBS USA Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of Corporate Communications Cameron Bruett.

"We will set a bold path forward to get people back to work and to get safe, Canadian beef back on the plate of domestic consumers and consumers around the world."

Bruett announced a six-point plan to bring the plant up to standard. It includes an independent third-party review of the plant and its food-safety plan by an expert from Texas A&M University, as well as additional training for XL's 2,200 employees.

JBS USA personnel have spent the past week studying the plant.

"I sat down with some of my key operations and engineering people who are still here at the plant," said Rupp.

"They're fired up ... They think there's no problem with this plant producing safe product. It's a good, clean facility. We just need to operate it."

The next step will be to decide whether JBS USA will exercise its option to buy the Brooks facility that it is now managing.

"There's a reason you do a due-diligence process and that's to make sure you know what you're buying," Rupp added.

He said operations will begin slowly on Monday but he wants to see it processing 4,000 carcasses a day — its previous capacity — within a couple of weeks.

As Rupp spoke with reporters at a hotel, workers were next door getting trained on employee safety and food safety.

"It's been touch and go, so after a month I'm happy," said Dale Moorhouse, who has been a meat cutter at XL for seven years.

So far , he added, the new bosses have been saying the right things.

"From what I've heard so far I'm hopeful."

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association says the new ownership relieves a lot of uncertainty in the industry.

"There has been a backup of the inventory of market-ready cattle," said vice-president Dave Solverson.

"A lot of the marketing was sort of suspended for this time," he added.

"It's encouraging. They run eight plants in the U.S. ... They are experts at the job and world players."

Millions of kilograms of meat have been returned to the plant from retailers across Canada and the United States. The recalled beef is being dumped in a landfill.

Rupp said it's too soon to say when shipments to the United States will be allowed to resume.