The manure hit the fan in early September when U.S. food inspectors found E. coli bacteria in a shipment of beef from the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta.
The U.S. quickly closed its border to beef from the plant, which slaughters up to 40 per cent of Canada's cattle. Canadian officials then shut the plant down and sent 2,200 workers home.
In the weeks that followed, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency pulled more than 2,000 products across the country involving millions of kilograms of beef — the largest meat recall in Canada's history.
American food safety regulators announced a similar recall by XL Foods of its products in more than 30 states.
In the end, there were 18 confirmed cases of people getting sick in Canada from a specific and potentially deadly strain of E. coli linked to XL Foods beef.
Food safety rules not enforced enough
Canadian producers lost money as cattle prices fell and ranchers had to pay more to ship their cattle to other plants.
Millions of kilograms of beef from prime Canadian cattle was dumped in landfills or rendered into non-food products.
The company that once boasted of being the largest Canadian-owned beef plant turned over management of the Brooks plant to JBS USA, an affiliate of Brazil-based JBS SA, which has an option to buy the facility and other XL Foods holdings.
Professor Rick Holley, a University of Manitoba food safety expert, said there is no excuse for the sanitation problems that led to the closure of the Brooks plant.
He said Canada is respected around the world for its progressive food safety rules. The problem, he suggested, is that those rules are not as vigorously enforced as they should be.
How could 40 inspectors and six veterinarians at the XL plant somehow miss the problems?
"We see too much pressure being put on inspection staff to complete reports," said Holley, who added that some inspectors need more training to effectively do their jobs.
"They just have to get better at the proactive end of things, a lot better."
The responsibility for food safety also rests with company owners. Holley said managers and supervisors must set clear operating standards for hygiene and strictly enforce them.To my knowledge, no one has been penalized for this lapse.