The XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., will be able to resume limited meat processing today under the supervision of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency after a massive recall of beef products over E. coli concerns.

A specific strain of E. coli detected at the plant led to the recall of hundreds of products and has been tied to 12 human cases of E. coli illness.

CFIA said it has verified that appropriate cleaning and sanitization has taken place at the plant, and other maintenance problems — such as drainage, condensation and ice buildup on freezer doors — have been addressed.

The plant will be allowed to process the roughly 5,100 carcasses remaining at the plant that have tested negative for E. coli. 

Officials said any product that tested positive for E. coli, which was estimated to be less than one per cent of the carcasses still at the plant when its licence was suspended, will be destroyed. 

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The XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., will be partially reopened after an assessment by the CFIA found it has been properly cleaned and sanitized. (Larry MacDougal/CP)

"This will allow the CFIA to review, in a controlled manner, the company's improvements made to all previously addressed deficiencies," said Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, CFIA’s executive director of western operations.

Meat will remain under CFIA detention until it has been determined the plant is effectively managing E. coli risk. 

The product will not leave the establishment until CFIA confirms it is safe, said officials.

Limited operations will be immediately suspended if inspectors have any concerns with the plant's food safety controls.

"If the inspectors see something that is not appropriate [they] will take action," said Dr. Richard Arsenault, director of meat programs for the CFIA.

Two additional inspectors have been deployed to focus on E. coli oversight, which will bolster the team of 40 inspectors and six veterinarians already at the facility.

No timeline on next phase

The plant’s licence is still suspended, and it will not be able to resume normal operations until the CFIA confirms it is safe to do so.

CFIA said there is no timeline on when the plant will to start accepting new cattle or exporting meat.

Arsenault said the CFIA is also keeping in close contact with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which halted all beef exports from the Alberta plant on Sept. 25. 

He said the current process of limited meat production will allow CFIA to gather evidence to make a formal application for allowing meat from the plant back into the U.S.

Arsenault said CFIA is looking to reach out to the union, which raised a number of concerns Wednesday about the company’s approach to food safety.

But he added that the work atmosphere at the plant will be left in the company's hands, as the CFIA's main concern is food safety.

The information was part of an update given by representatives from the CFIA and the Public Health Agency on the next steps of the "multi-stage assessment process" at the XL Foods plant this morning in Ottawa.

CFIA said it had launched a detailed assessment of the southern Alberta plant on Tuesday to see if the facility has addressed deficiencies uncovered in an investigation in September. 

Kochhar said the agency will look at ways of improving the tracking of meat that leaves the XL Foods plant for other processing centres, and being able to get that information in a timely manner.

Arsenault said they will also look at the entire incident to see what improvements can be made.