Alberta Health Services alleges Walmart Canada kept and sold food that was potentially contaminated by the Fort McMurray wildfire.
The health agency says Walmart Canada Corp. has been charged with 174 violations of the province’s Public Health Act.
“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 the public,” AHS said in a statement Friday. “This was a direct and avoidable risk to the health of this community.”
Alex Roberton, Walmart Canada’s senior director of corporate affairs, said the retailer is surprised by the charges.
“Walmart Canada follows very strict policies and procedures specifically designed to ensure the safety of the food we offer our customers,” Roberton said in an email. “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.”
He said Walmart cannot comment further because it hasn’t received material from the Crown regarding the charges.
The huge fire that broke out May 1 forced more than 80,000 people to flee the city. Residents were not allowed to return to the damaged community until June.
Some of the charges include failing to dispose of food items, including candy, potato chips, beans and condiments.
The health authority said food exposed to wildfires can be damaged by unsafe temperatures, smoke, ash, soot, fire retardants, water and loss of power.
AHS said its staff worked closely with food operations after the wildfire to ensure they reopened safely.
“Our goal was simple: ensure safe food is available to this community, as one component of returning the community to health, and protecting the community from any further risks.”