Several thousand beef carcasses that were still in cold storage when federal food safety officials shut down XL Foods' Lakeside beef packing plant have all been deboned and cut, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reports.
CFIA said Wednesday its staff were able to "observe the plant's E. coli controls in action" as it oversaw the cutting of about 5,100 carcasses present when the Brooks, Alta. plant was shut down Sept. 27.
Those observations, which began when CFIA approved the processing of the carcasses starting Oct. 11, were delayed briefly when XL laid off nearly all Lakeside staff Saturday and stopped work on the carcasses.
Next on the agency's agenda at Brooks will be to "thoroughly review its observations of deboning and cutting activities, specific E. coli controls, meat hygiene, sampling techniques and overall sanitation in the plant."
Lab results are expected to be available later this week for the agency to analyze, both from CFIA tests and XL Foods' own product testing.
Before the beginning of next week, CFIA said it expects to prepare a report of its assessment and "make a recommendation on next steps."
In the meantime, about 2,000 Lakeside employees who were laid off Saturday remain off the job -- including about 800 who were recalled the following Sunday to finish processing the remainder of the 5,100 stored carcasses.
CBC reported Wednesday that the 800 recalled workers were again laid off as of Tuesday, with no word yet from the company on when any of the employees may return.
The plant, one of Canada's largest, "will not be permitted to resume normal operations until the CFIA confirms in writing that it is safe to do so," the agency said in a statement Wednesday.
No cattle will be accepted for slaughter and none of the newly-cut products from the plant will go to market "until the CFIA is fully confident that the plant's food safety controls are working effectively."
The agency noted Wednesday its staff at Brooks are still overseeing movement of some meat products from the plant to rendering.
CFIA's Sept. 27 suspension of the Lakeside plant's federal operating license came in the wake of an ongoing and now-massive recall of beef products and primal cuts, shipped from XL to processors and retailers in both Canada and the U.S., dating back to Sept. 4.
The recall stems from detection of O157:H7, one of the more toxic varieties of E. coli bacteria, in some samples of beef from the plant.
As of Oct. 12, the Public Health Agency of Canada has documented 15 people across four provinces whose illnesses have been linked to products from XL and the ongoing food safety investigation.
Cattle industry scrambles for additional capacity, Oct. 16, 2012
XL recalls some laid-off beef plant workers, Oct. 15, 2012