Canada Walmart Canada is being accused of selling contaminated food from its Fort McMurray store following last springs 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. Related
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:
chocolate bars and various candies
varieties of chips, crackers and cookies
sports drinks, fruit juices and bottled water
coffee, tea and coffee whitener
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
yogurt, milk, cheeses, butter and ice cream
bacon, steaks, chicken nuggets
frozen pizzas, fish and shrimp
burgers, chicken breasts, pork ribs and deli meats