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U.S. audit gives Canada low grade on food safety

Video: A U.S. audit of Canada’s food safety system found some major flaws. Despite some major recalls in recent years, Canada is still not meeting stringent safety standards when it comes to meat inspection. Vassy Kapelos reports.

The U.S. government has put a label on Canada’s food safety system: “adequate.”

It’s the lowest of three possible ratings, and is the result of an audit the United States Food Safety and Inspection Service conducted in the fall of 2012, looking at how Canadian meat is handled.

During the course of the audit, inspectors didn’t just look at where meat was slaughtered, but also where meat and eggs are processed.

They discovered flaking paint and rust on overhead pipes, grease spots on conveyer belts and dusty trays under ventilators—all presenting a risk to the meat eventually shipped for consumption around the country and beyond.

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The audit, launched in the wake of the largest meat recall in Canadian history, notes that many of the issues identified were addressed and rectified.

An Alberta company, XL Foods Inc., was at the heart of the 2012 outbreak during which health officials confirmed 18 people had tested positive for a specific strain of bacteria linked to meat from the company’s plant in Brooks.

U.S. food inspectors were the first to find E. coli in a shipment of beef from that XL Foods plant and swiftly closed its border to meat from the facility.

Ottawa briefly shut down the plant, which was later purchased by Brazilian-based meat-packing giant JBS USA.

Since the recall, the federal government has since launched a review into the incident, tasking an independent expert advisory panel with analyzing the events and circumstances surrounding the massive 2012 E. coli outbreak and beef recall.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has also added 750 inspectors and additional layers of oversight to food safety.

The government insists the country’s food safety system is among the best in the world, and that regular updates help keep it that way.

“Our government is committed to ensuring that Canadians have confidence in the food they buy and eat,” Health Minister Rona Ambrose said in a written statement, noting improvements such as the added inspectors and the implementation of tougher penalties.

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Richard Arsenault, acting executive director with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said audits such as these are routinely conducted on both sides of the border.

Still, he described the audit as a learning experience, saying the agency “can never rest on its laurels … we need to be relentless in the pursuit of improvement.”

Beyond consumer safety concerns, the downgraded rating from the U.S. could slow down trade—Canadian meat will now be subject to more audits and inspections at the border until the safety system meets American standards.

With files from The Canadian Press