Maple Leaf identifies likely source of listeria contamination at plant

Maple Leaf Foods continues its textbook risk communication, being the first to publicly provide information about the source of the listeria contamination that has killed 19 and sickened dozens.

But is it enough?

“After careful study of the records, the physical plant and product test results received from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), internal and external experts have concluded that the most likely source was a possible collection point for bacteria located deep inside the mechanical operations of two slicing machines on lines 8 and 9. Rigorous sanitization of this equipment was completed on a daily basis in accordance with or exceeding the equipment manufacturer’s recommendations. However, upon full disassembly, areas were found where bacteria may accumulate deep inside the slicing machines and avoid the sanitization process. There were also other environmental factors, not on product contact surfaces, that may have contributed to the contamination.

"We deeply regret this incident and the impact it has had on people’s lives," said Michael McCain, President and CEO. "We have the highest food safety standards and we have worked around the clock and left no stone unturned to identify the root cause and eliminate the source of this contamination. Throughout this crisis we have done whatever it takes to place our consumers’ interests and public health first. It’s now up to us to earn back your confidence."

Concerns with slicing machines are hardly new regarding listeria. The company has taken some good steps, but can do more:

• Release the results of the 3,000 listeria swabs your company takes every year to provide some data, some meaning, to your claims that public health is your top priority?

Support some kind of point-of-sale initiative – warning labels or otherwise – to explicitly warn pregnant women and immunocomprimized Canadians that, as you say, listeria is so widespread in the environment, that vulnerable people should not eat your products, unless they are heated or some other kill step is employed.