For the first time in three years the U.S. Department of Agriculture will audit Canada's food inspection agency, which includes a visit to the Alberta-based XL Foods meat plant at the centre of an international beef recall because of E. coli contamination.
Audits are standard for importing countries, according to Bonnie Buntain, the professor of public health at the University of Calgary and the former chief public health veterinarian for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.
"The team of U.S. officials will look at every aspect of the way Canada inspects as well as line it up to their requirements. That would include how much Canada does the E. coli testing to all the other pathogen testing, whether or not that methodology is still equivalent to what the U.S. does," Buntain said.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said the American audit has been in the works for a while and was not prompted by the XL Foods recall.
Buntain agrees and said since the XL plant is a huge exporter to the U.S., it may have already been in the plans for a visit.
She said there are two main areas that American officials will want to look at.
"Whether their export certificate process — that is once the product is ready to go to the U.S. — is in line with what the U.S. wants ... and I think particularly the microbiological testing program because of listeria in the past with Canada and with the E. coli 0157 currently, those two things would probably be on the U.S.’s agenda," Buntain said.
CFIA expanded its recall again Friday night to include some beef products sold in Ontario and Quebec. Product details can be found on CFIA's website.
Limited operations granted
On Thursday, the plant in Brooks was given permission to resume limited meat processing under the supervision of CFIA.
The agency said it verified appropriate cleaning and sanitization practices have taken place and other maintenance problems — such as drainage, condensation and ice buildup on freezer doors — have been addressed.
Meat will remain under CFIA detention until it has been determined the plant is effectively managing E. coli risk.
Human E. coli cases reach 15
Meanwhile, authorities confirmed three more E. coli cases have been linked to the XL Foods meat plant in Brooks — one in Quebec and two in B.C.
The total number of people who got sick after eating meat linked to XL Foods is now 15 — seven in Alberta, one in Newfoundland, four in Quebec and three in B.C.
According to the CFIA, more than 1,800 beef products from the southern Alberta plant have been recalled.
CFIA suspended the licence of the meat processing plant on Sept. 27, three weeks after tests by U.S. and Canadian officials first found E. coli in the beef.