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Lakeside beef plant in reputation-rebuilding mode

Officials at JBS Canada are working to rebuild the food safety reputation at their Lakeside beef packing plant after last fall’s massive meat recall from the plant under the XL Foods banner.

The 2012 recall was the largest beef recall in Canadian history. A federally-appointed review panel recently released a report blasting both XL Foods and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) staff for a “relaxed attitude towards applying mandatory procedures.”

The report found XL Foods was unprepared to handle the massive recall, and both XL Foods and CFIA shared “a weak food safety culture at the Brooks plant.” The panel made several recommendations to improve meat inspection and packing processes.

Following last fall’s recall, the U.S. arm of Brazilian meat packing firm JBS was contracted to manage — and, in January this year, purchased — the Brooks, Alta. plant.

Willie Van Solkema, now president of JBS Canada, told delegates at the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association (SSGA) convention here that the company is doing everything possible from a food safety standpoint.

“We have frequent audits from our own business. We also get audited by third-party auditors,” he said, adding that customers have also audited Lakeside.

JBS reviewed all the food safety procedures and processes at Lakeside, and audited the plant while it was operating, to make sure Lakeside’s processes were consistent with processes in JBS’ U.S. plants, he said.

When one plant finds a new process that works really well, the company communicates it immediately and implements it in other plants, he said.

Although the recall happened before JBS purchased the plant, he said, the company is still working to rebuild the plant’s reputation.

“I think most customers are very comfortable with (the plant) because they’ve done audits of our facility. They’re comfortable with our food safety. But, let’s face it, it takes time to build that reputation back,” he said.

The Lakeside plant is now operating at full capacity, processing 4,000 head of cattle per day.

Van Solkema said JBS is “absolutely committed” to food safety.

“We know how important it is to the beef industry. And let’s be honest. We can’t afford another wreck like the XL one. It hurt not just XL — obviously we all know what happened — but it hurt the total industry.”

— Lisa Guenther is a field editor for Grainews at Livelong, Sask. Follow her @LtoG on Twitter.

Related stories:
XL beef recall revealed ‘weak safety culture,’ June 6, 2013
XL Foods’ operator to become owner, Jan. 9, 2013

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