No E. coli testing for meat plant, despite recall
The Pitt Meadows meat-packing plant at the centre of an E. coli beef recall in November will no longer be required to be regularly test for the deadly bacteria.
Pitt Meadows Meats Limited switched from a federal license to a provincial license last month, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed Tuesday.
As a result of the license change, Pitt Meadows Meats will no longer be able to export meat outside of the province, and won’t have to regularly test for E. coli bacteria, unlike federally inspected facilities.
“The food isn’t any less safe,” said a Canadian Food Inspection Agency spokesperson. The federal standards are more stringent to make sure exported meat conforms to foreign testing standards.
However, Pitt Meadows Meats plant manager Brian Bilkes said the switch was just good business.
"It costs us significantly more to be a federal facility... so this is something we have been considering for a while," he said. Since the plant doesn't export its meat products, there's little reason to be federally-licensed. The plant's main competitors are other provincial facilities, so being federally licensed puts Pitt Meadows Meats at a competitive disadvantage, said Bilkes.
"The meat business is very competitive," he said.
Bilkes said the company is considering building a new facility to replace its aging Ford Road plant.
"If we built a new facility with more capacity... it would be a federal facility."
The plant is currently being investigated by the CFIA for covering up a positive test for E. coli bacteria in September, which led to the beef recall two months ago.
That investigation is still ongoing, and is expected to take up to one year.
Pitt Meadows Meats has admitted to not reporting the positive E. coli test result, which it blames on a disgruntled employee.
Subsequent tests by the CFIA have found no traces of E. coli in food produced by the plant.
The Ford Road abattoir processes beef, veal, bison, deer, goat, lamb and sheep. All products at the plant are slaughtered according to Islamic ritual slaughter laws, called halal.
Most of the plant’s products are sold wholesale to retail meat stores across the province.
Consumption of food contaminated with E. coli bacteria may cause serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea, as well as seizures or strokes.
The bacteria can cause permanent kidney damage, and in severe cases, even death.