Modernizing inspection at slaughterhouses – Bonnie Buntain, UCVM


Bonnie Buntain, a professor of ecosystem and public health in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, has been in the news a lot lately talking about XL Foods and the biggest beef recall in Canadian history.

Eleven people in four provinces have become ill from E. coli that’s linked to beef from the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta.

Buntain, the former chief public health veterinarian for the Food Safety and Inspection Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has been asked by a number of media outlets to explain the process of a recall and try to answer how it happened in the first place.

But she’s also been asked to help the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CIFA) work toward modernizing food inspection processes across the country. As an academic member of CIFA’s expert advisory committee, Buntain is heading to Ottawa this week for an expert advisory committee meeting to discuss progress toward inspection modernization.

As part of her work for the CFIA, Buntain has spent much of the last year studying inspection processes in the U.S. Australia and New Zealand.

“You cannot physically inspect or test safety into a food product,” she says. “You have to have preventative systems and the plans that the CIFA has for modernizing the inspection system really starts moving in that direction.”

Over the last few weeks, Buntain says she has been asked a lot of questions from journalists about the recall work, and specifically who is to blame for people getting sick.

“I really stress the ultimate responsibility to produce safe food lies with industry,” she says. “The government’s role is to oversee and verify and make sure that industry is doing what they said they were doing in their safety plan, and also to meet the regulatory requirements for interprovincial and foreign export.”

Buntain says the XL Foods recall has highlighted deficiencies in the current system, including the importance of record keeping and the ability to trace a product through the food distribution system.

“Hopefully, the lessons learned can be incorporated into modernizing the CIFA inspection system,” she says, adding the events of the last few weeks will most definitely be discussed in the classroom.

“We will intend to use this case for teaching public health and food safety in the vet school for sure.”