Walmart charged for allegedly failing to throw out food after fort mcmurray wildfire

Walmart charged for allegedly failing to throw out food after fort mcmurray wildfire

14 January 2017

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Canada — Walmart Canada is being accused of selling contaminated food from its Fort McMurray store following last spring’s wildfire, while simultaneously misleading public health inspectors about the practice.

A total of 174 Public Health Act charges have been laid against the company, the vast majority for allegedly neglecting rules requiring the disposal of spoiled or tainted food.

Specifically, Walmart failed “to ensure food that has been contaminated or otherwise unfit for human consumption must not be served, offered for sale, processed, packaged, displayed or stored for human consumption,” the charges say.

According to the 31-page charge sheet, the list of items in question includes baby food, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, bacon, steaks, frozen fish and a wide variety of snacks, drinks and condiments.

“Food exposed to wildfire situations can be damaged by unsafe temperatures, smoke, ash, soot, fire retardant chemicals, water and loss of power during a fire,” Alberta Health Services said in a written statement Friday.

Court documents filed in Fort McMurray say the alleged violations occurred between May 24-29 last year.

The northern Alberta oilsands hub, with a population of more than 80,000 people, was evacuated May 3. A phased re-entry did not proceed until the first week of June, although several people, including employees of some grocery and retail stores, came back early to ensure the outlets were stocked with goods for returning evacuees.

“After the wildfire, we worked closely with food operations across Fort McMurray to support their reopening, safely, without posing further risk to the health of residents, visitors and volunteers,” the AHS statement said.

“Despite having received this guidance and direction from AHS, both in person and in writing, it is our belief that Walmart reopened selling wildfire-contaminated food to public. This was a direct and avoidable risk to the health of this community.”

AHS is also accusing Walmart of misleading its public health inspectors by telling them on multiple occasions that contaminated food was not being sold. Four of the health act charges accuse the company of “obstructing, hindering or interfering with” inspectors in this regard.

It is unclear how much tainted food was allegedly sold by Walmart, or how long the practice continued.

AHS declined to comment on when or how it discovered the alleged violations. The health authority said it has not received any reports of people getting sick from products sold by Walmart at the time.

Four senior Walmart executives are named on the charge sheet, including the U.S.-based director of disaster response and recovery, and the Toronto-based senior manager of compliance food safety.

Read the charges filed against Walmart

The company issued its own statement Friday expressing surprise at the charges.

“Walmart Canada follows very strict policies and procedures specifically designed to ensure the safety of the food we offer our customers,” said the statement from Alex Roberton, senior director of corporate affairs.

“We, at all material times, and during an unprecedented crisis, worked very closely with both food inspectors and the crisis management team of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to reopen the store as soon as reasonably possible in an effort to support and meet the critical needs of the community.”

Convictions under the Public Health Act can lead to maximum $2,000 fine for a first offence and $5,000 fine for subsequent offences.

The list of food items AHS says should have been thrown away include:

• soft drinks

• chocolate bars and various candies

• chewing gum

• varieties of chips, crackers and cookies

• sports drinks, fruit juices and bottled water

• dried fruits

• coffee, tea and coffee whitener

• breakfast cereals

• nuts and seeds

• dried pastas and noodles

• condiments, pickles, olives and salad dressings

• syrups and honey

• soups, broths and bouillon

• granola bars and oatmeal

• vegetable and clam juices

• dried meat snacks

• puddings and fruit cups

• baby formula and baby snacks

• muffin and cake mixes

• peanut butter, jams and jellies

• popcorn

• yogurt, milk, cheeses, butter and ice cream

• bacon, steaks, chicken nuggets

• frozen pizzas, fish and shrimp

• burgers, chicken breasts, pork ribs and deli meats

• eggs

• frozen vegetables

• pasta sauces and cooking oils

• baking products

• various breads and buns

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