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Plant at centre of E. coli scare shipping beef again, union says

A Canada Food Inspection Agency employee, left, looks on as beef from the XL Foods cattle processing plant is dumped at a landfill site near Brooks, Alta., in October.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The plant at the centre of an extensive beef recall has resumed shipping products for the first time since an E. coli outbreak forced its closure in September.

The union representing workers at XL Foods Inc. in Brooks, Alta., says the shipments include a full range of products, including ground beef and steaks.

"They are shipping product to retailers," Doug O'Halloran of the United Food and Commercial Workers union said Thursday. "The people they were supplying before, I think they are loyal, their customers are going to come back. That is a good sign."

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The union said the beef has been packaged under the banner of JBS, which took over management of the plant from XL Foods last month. He said employees at the plant are upbeat about the shipments and hopeful about the plant's future.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials were not immediately available for comment on the shipments. The agency would only say that beef slaughtered at the plant has been tested for E. coli and held at the facility until it is found to be acceptable.

"Once products are found to be negative for E. coli, they are allowed to enter the marketplace," a CFIA official wrote in an e-mail.

JBS USA officials were not available for comment.

The CFIA said it will soon ask American officials for permission to export beef from the plant to the U.S.

"The CFIA will ask the [U.S.] Food Safety Inspection Service to review the dossier in the near future and anticipates resumption of trade in due course."

The Public Health Agency of Canada said Wednesday there are now 18 confirmed cases of E. coli in Canada that have been linked to beef from the XL Foods plant. The agency said in the latest case, a person from Alberta became ill last month and is still recovering.

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Last month, the CFIA gave the plant permission to resume slaughtering cattle after being shut down for more than a month. On Nov. 4, the agency discovered new cleanliness problems at the plant and ordered corrective action.

Mr. O'Halloran said after all the testing and scrutiny over the past weeks, consumers shouldn't worry about the safety of beef from the plant.

"We think that people should not be concerned about buying the product. It is probably the safest product out there at this point," he said. "I've actually started eating hamburger again. I was off it there for awhile."

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