01/16/2013 09:10 EST | Updated 03/18/2013 05:12 EDT

E. Coli Allegations Lead To Charges Against B.C. Company

uncooked meat   raw fresh beef...
uncooked meat raw fresh beef...
Officials at a B.C. meat plant say charges of selling beef from a batch of meat that tested positive for E. coli 0157 two years ago are "unfounded" and will be challenged "vigorously" in court.

Pitt Meadows Meats is facing 11 charges under the Food and Drugs Act, for allegedly selling food that was unfit for human consumption.

The charges stem from beef trim the company is accused of selling to 11 different markets and restaurants in September 2010.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency shut down the plant in Metro Vancouver in November 2010 after Daniel Land, a former employee responsible for quality assurance at the facility, complained that company officials had covered up a positive E. coli test and failed to report it to the agency.

After the plant re-opened, Land told CBC News the plant's manger had crumpled up the test results, tossed them in the garbage and ordered him not to discuss it.

Company apologized

Pitt Meadows Meats business manager Brian Bilkes admitted to CBC News that he "went along with the decision" not to inform CFIA of the suspected contamination. Bilkes said he wasn't concerned because the plant manager believed the test had been sabotaged.

"We had a test, we didn't handle it properly. We're apologizing for that," Bilkes said at the time.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the company repeated its position that it believes there was never any real threat of E. coli contamination.

"It is our belief this is not a case of former employee turned whistleblower," Alise Mills said.

"In the opinion of Pitt Meadows Meats and its staff, this is an unfortunate case of a disgruntled former employee who seems to be wanting to cause harm to the brand of their former place of business."

Mills said the company is "chomping at the bit" to defend its reputation and refute the charges in court.

She said there is no evidence of any illness from the meat that was shipped and hundreds of tests done by the CFIA in the wake of the discovery failed to produce a single positive result.

Whistleblower denies tampering

Land, who has left the meat industry, denied two years ago in a CBC News interview that he tampered with the test and he repeated the denial Wednesday.

He also said that going public with the allegations devastated his career.

"All the years I've spent in the food industry, you can throw out the window," Land said.

"Being a whistleblower in the food industry is not something an employer wants to hire, so it basically ruined my food industry portfolio."

He said he feels vindicated by the charges, which were laid in October 2012, but only came to light this week.

Neither the company nor the CFIA announced that charges had been laid.

No one from the CFIA was available to comment. But it appears the case was in the hands of the Crown prosecutor before a decision was made to proceed.

Each charge carries a maximum $250,000 fine and three years in prison.

No trial date has been set.

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