Several community leaders got their first tour of the former XL Foods meatpacking plant in Brooks since the site closed last year during the largest beef recall in Canadian history.
Officials with JBS Canada, which took ownership of the troubled plant in January, say the facility has undergone more than 60 inspections in the last six months. It's now shipping meat to Canada, the U.S. and Asia, and those allowed into the plant on Friday say they were impressed with what they saw.
"I noticed fairly quickly there was a more positive atmosphere," said David Swann, agriculture critic for the Alberta Liberal Party. "There's more openness among management, they are starting to consider giving me some numbers about real issues like the amount of meat they are throwing out, the number of tests that are positive."
The XL Foods plant was shut down on September 27 after beef processed at the site tested positive for E. coli.
In all, 18 people became sick and more than 4,000 tonnes of beef were recalled from across Canada and the U.S.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency launched an investigation into carcass deboning techniques, E. coli controls, meat hygience and sampling techniques after it was discovered that the particular strain of E. coli had not been seen before in either Canada or the U.S.
It was later made public that the CFIA had previously issued seven corrective action requests to the plant and was monitoring them before the agency decided to shut the plant down.
Customers demand information
As well, JBS launched their own reviews after customers like McDonald's demanded more information on how the plant was operating.
Officials with JBS now say while food safety procedures have improved, it didn't take a drastic overhaul to do that.
"If you want to say there's a super-dramatic change, no," said Willie Van Solkema, who leads the Canadian division of JBS. "They've changed slightly but we make sure that we are auditing ourselves and that we are doing what we say we are going to do when it comes to food safety."
JBS also owns a plant in Calgary, which is closed.
The company says that facility may re-open one day to cut or cook meat but not slaughter animals.
The plant can slaughter around 3,800 head of cattle per day.