Maple Leaf: Make your listeria data public

Relying on the government is a really bad strategy to rebuild confidence in a consumer brand. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada and any number of other agencies – 50 per cent of government press release content contains praise for other agencies  — have provided scant data during the listeria outbreak in Canada. A technical briefing last night was little more than another opportunity for government types to praise … themselves.

When was the first onset of illness? When were the various deaths recorded, and when were they identified as cases of listeriosis? How many pregnant women have been stricken and have there been any miscarriages or stillbirths?

Yesterday, Michael H. McCain, president & CEO of listeria-embattled Maple Leaf said in a press release,

"If there is any question in the consumers’ mind about any product from that plant, then the onus is on us, and the CFIA, to act decisively and swiftly to restore consumer confidence. Our actions are guided by putting public health first."

I’d keep CFIA out of it. They test the plants for listeria a few times a year. As Maple Leaf Foods spokesperson Linda Smith told CTV Newsnet Friday, officials at the plant are,

"… constantly looking for it (listeria), constantly swabbing and looking for it."

Smith said the equipment at the plant is sanitized every day and officials take about 3,000 swabs per year. The plant also has a microbiologist on site, she said.

"This plant has an excellent food safety record, excellent inspection record, excellent external auditors. We’ll never know exactly how it got here."

But you do have 3,000 samples per year. If Maple Leaf really wants to restore public confidence, release the listeria data. How many positives does the Toronto plant see in a year? Were there positives leading up to the initial Aug. 17, 2008 recall? If there were no positives, why not? What is the protocol when a positive is discovered?

Consumers can handle more, not less information about the food they eat.

This entry was posted in Listeria and tagged , , by Douglas Powell. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Dr. Douglas Powell editor, retired professor, food safety 3/289 Annerley Rd Annerley, Queensland 4103 61478222221 I am based in Brisbane, Australia, 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time