The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says an Alberta company plans to destroy all of the beef involved in a massive E. coli recall."All of the meat that was involved in the recall and has been returned to XL Foods — that product will be destroyed," Lisa Gauthier, a CFIA spokeswoman said Friday evening.
The recall, which began last month, involves more than 1,800 products across Canada and the U.S.
The agency says up to 5.5 million kilograms of meat stored at the Brooks plant and warehouses that was not part of the recall will either be rendered or cooked at a high temperature to kill any E. coli.
The company can apply to the CFIA to use some of this cooked meat for food products, but it would be done under agency scrutiny.
"If the company chooses to use the high-temperature treatment, the CFIA will oversee the effectiveness of this process and as an extra precautionary measure will test afterwards that the product is safe," she said.
The agency said it doesn't know how much recalled beef there is in Canada by weight. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates 1.1 million kilograms of XL Foods beef has been recalled from stores in the U.S.
Earlier Friday, the agency said the meat packer may be allowed to send some of the recalled beef to market if it is cooked at a high enough temperature to kill off any possible E. coli.
"It could go to rendering. It could go to landfills or it could go to cooking," Harpreet Kochhar, a CFIA executive director, said Friday in a teleconference.
"But no meat enters the food supply unless we have actually tested it and we make sure that it is safe."
CFIA vice-president Paul Mayers said the company must submit a plan to the agency for approval for what it wants to do with the mountain of meat.
The agency also said Friday that tests on beef cut earlier this week at the plant during an inspection came back negative for E. coli.
A strain of the bacteria linked to beef from the XL Foods plant has made 16 people sick in four provinces. The latest case is in Quebec.
Unusual E.coli strain
Dr. Frank Plummer, chief science officer with the Public Health Agency of Canada, said this particular E. coli strain is unusual.
"This genetic fingerprint of this E. coli 0157 has not been seen before in either Canada or the United States," he said.
"It is unique and we are very confident that it came from the meat that was contaminated with E. coli in the XL plant."
The CFIA is now turning an eye to the actual work done during the inspection. That includes reviewing how workers cut and deboned beef carcasses, specific E. coli controls, meat hygiene, sampling techniques and overall sanitation.
"These findings, including a plan for next steps, will be finalized over the weekend," Mayers said.
"We know everyone is eager to have this work completed — and we are certainly moving ahead as quickly as possible — but must remain focused on the need to protect consumers."
XL Foods officials were not immediately available for comment.
There is no timeline on when the plant may be able to resume slaughtering cattle or shipping beef to market.
The plant has been closed since Sept. 27. The U.S. has not allowed any beef from XL into the country since Sept. 13.
The CFIA information update came two days after JBS USA announced it had signed a deal to take over management of the troubled XL Foods plant. The agreement includes an option to buy the Brooks facility and other XL Foods operations for about $50 million and another $50 million in JBS shares.
Beef industry officials have estimated that XL has been losing millions of dollars a day since it suspended operations last month and faces the challenge of recapturing the trust of consumers and retailers in Canada, the United States and around the world.
JBS USA, with eight beef plants in the U.S., is a subsidiary of Brazil-based JBS S.A., which calls itself the world's largest protein company.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Friday he has met with JBS officials and told them the CFIA will enforce rigorous food safety standards at the XL Foods plant regardless of who manages it.
"Canadian consumers are always our government's first priority when it comes to food safety," he said in an email.