Maple Leaf discovers food safety – too late

During the Bite Me ’09 road trip, a very prominent food safety colleague told a very public audience that he wasn’t so impressed when a company hired a chief food safety dude after the poop had hit the fan.

Me thinks he was talking about Maple Leaf Foods, a Canadian company doing $5.5 billion a year in sales that decided it needed a chief food safety officer after killing 21 people with its listeria-laden deli meats last fall.

On March 25, 2009, Maple Leaf announced it was launching an external company blog at The first posting, "The Journey to Food Safety Leadership," is a letter written by President and CEO, Michael McCain.

Anything mentioning Journey should be banned. So many times while flipping the radio during the Bite Me ’09 3600-mile roadtrip, a Journey song would come on. And they’re on some new ad. Horrible, horrible music.

So it’s apt that Maple Leaf Foods chose a Journey to food safety because like the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, they are all aggressively mediocre.

The letter from McCain is not a blog post: it’s a missive that needs some serious editing for brevity. There’s been a couple of other posts that run the gamut from boring to pedantic. My group has written a paper on what makes a good blog post. McCain may want to check it out.

McCain and his food safety hire, Randy Huffman, are apparently touring the editorial boards of the remaining newspapers in Canada as a prelude to parliamentary hearings that begin next week on the future of Canada’s food safety system.

“We are going to be advocating more regulation, not less. More-stringent protocols, not less-stringent protocols. We’re going to be advocating more transparency and a stronger role for government, not a reduced role.”

Of course they are. Just like leafy green growers and the dude from Kellogg’s. Isn’t it embarrassing when industry – the ones who make a profit – says, we can’t do this ourselves, we need a babysitter.?

He (McCain) was accompanied by the company’s new chief food safety officer, Randy Huffman, whose appointment and position are being touted as evidence of Maple Leaf’s responsiveness to the crisis.

I’ll defer to my very prominent food safety colleague.

McCain also told the Globe and Mail this morning,

“We have to be candid and open and honest to the Canadian public, as does the industry and government. In the world of food safety we can do the very best job we can, but zero risk is not achievable based on what we know today.”

Dude, I co-wrote a book called Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk back in 1997 that said zero-risk was unachievable and consumers actually don’t want that. They just want to know that whoever is in charge is doing what can be reasonably expected to reduce risk. Twelve years later and McCain feels it necessary to lecture the Canadian public about this stuf? Had McCain really never heard about the 1998 outbreak of listeria associated with Sara Lee hot dogs?

Back to the questions the Globe editorial board apparently forgot to ask while fawning over McCain: should Maple Leaf products contain warning labels for pregnant women and old folks; why aren’t Maple Leaf listeria results publicly available; and who knew what when in the days leading up to the Aug. 2008 recall?