Fort McMurray Walmart charged with allegedly not throwing out food after wildfire
A man browses the food section at the Fort McMurray Walmart on May 31, 2016. The store opened in anticipation of thousands of residents who would be allowed back into Fort McMurray the following day
Walmart Canada has been charged with numerous health violations for allegedly failing to throw out a wide variety of food and drinks from its Fort McMurray store in the weeks following last spring’s wildfire, Postmedia has learned.
A total of 174 counts of Public Health Act violations have been laid against the company, most of them for “failing to ensure that 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 list of food items in question includes baby snacks, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, bacon, steaks, frozen fish and a wide variety of snacks, drinks and condiments.
Four of the health act charges relate to “obstructing, hindering or interfering” Alberta Health Services inspectors by advising them that contaminated food was no longer being offered for sale.
Court documents filed in Fort McMurray show the alleged violations occurred between May 24-29 last year. Four senior Walmart executives, including the U.S.-based director of disaster response and recovery, are included in the health act charges.
The oilsands hub was evacuated on May 3 amid a massive wildfire that wiped out about 10 per cent of the community’s structures.
A phased re-entry did not proceed until the first week of June though several people, including employees of some grocery and retail stores, came back early to ensure they were stocked with goods for returning evacuees.
“We know that having access to safe food is essential to the health and recovery of any community,” AHS said in a statement Friday.
“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. 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.
“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.”
Walmart also provided a written statement saying the company was surprised by the charges.
The front entrance to the Walmart in downtown Fort McMurray, Alta. on Friday, January 13, 2017. Walmart Canada was hit with 174 counts of Public Health Act violations regarding how food was handled following May's wildfire
“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, 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.
“We have not yet received Crown Disclosure in relation to these charges, and cannot comment further regarding this ongoing legal matter.”