Edmonton – An Alberta judge has approved a class-action lawsuit against XL Foods, the Brooks, Alta.-based meat packer at the centre of a massive beef recall after a 2012 E. coli outbreak.
The EdmontonJournal.com reports that so far about 200 people have joined the lawsuit from Canada and the U.S., and Rick Mallett, the lawyer representing them, says that number could rise.
Court of Queen’s Bench Associate Chief Justice John Rooke certified the class action in a hearing that ended on Oct. 8.
The decision means those who are suing the company can do so as a group instead of bringing individual cases to court.
Mallett says other consumers got sick from the tainted beef but for various reasons didn’t get tested, reports The Canadian Press. He adds that the lawsuit will also represent those consumers who purchased some of the millions of kilograms of recalled beef and lost money when they had to throw it away.
Public notifications and calls for more plaintiffs will soon appear in media across Canada, says the EdmontonJournal.com.
The class-action suit will proceed with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) as a third-party defendant that could be held responsible for part of any financial settlement potentially ordered by the courts.
The EdmontonJournal.com adds that while XL Foods denies any responsibility for the outbreak that sickened at least 18 people, the company has argued any possible liability should be shared with the CFIA.
How it may have happened
Sources at the time, reports the GlobeandMail.com, said the recall began when feces caked on the hide of at least one cow contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 made it through the company’s plant. The E. coli wasn’t caught on the kill floor and survived cleaning and de-hiding. Eventually it made its way to the cutting table.
Beef trim tested at another plant came back positive for E. coli on Sept. 4. The recall began on Sept. 16. The plant was eventually shut down on Sept. 27.
The recall expanded to 30 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and Hong Kong.
The EdmontonJournal.com reports that the packing plant was closed for weeks after the outbreak and the resulting loss of 35 per cent of Canada’s beef processing capacity cost ranchers an estimated $16 million to $27 million.
An independent panel charged with reviewing the XL Foods beef recall released its results last June. (Weak food safety culture at XL Foods and CFIA: review panel.)
The panel found a series of inadequate responses by two key players in the food safety continuum – the plant and CFIA staff – that played the most critical part leading to the September 2012 outbreak.
The panel said it found a relaxed attitude toward applying mandatory procedures and concluded that XL Foods was unprepared to handle what turned out to be the largest beef recall in Canadian history.