Nosestretcher alert: food safety is not simple, even if a $5 billion corporation says it is

Memo to Michael McCain, CEO, Maple Leaf Foods Inc.:

You or your company, or both, really suck at this communication about food safety risk thing.

In the two years since your killer deli meats actually killed 23 Canadians with listeria and sickened another 50 or so, the best you can do is remind Canadians they should do more?

I understand you probably had some PR-type tell you that Maple Leaf needed third-party experts to validate and endorse your food safety messages, what with killing all those people. Except that third-party validation has been invalidated since the mid-1990s. As a company, you’re better to make public everything you’re doing.

And I understand the web site being promoted by the Canadian Public Health Association was underwritten by the company, and the messages probably came unfiltered from CPHA.

But it’s your name, and your company’s reputation on the web site.

And it doesn’t look good.

After the listeria mess of 2008 in Canada, your company has taken a bunch of baby steps to apparently engage the Canadian public, like targeting bloggers, showing up at food safety meetings and talking about culture.

But if you really want to regain the trust of Canadians, like my parents, who were in Kansas the other day, and my father who said he’d never buy Maple Leaf again, here’s what you can actually do:

* make listeria test results in Maple Leaf plants public;
• add warning labels on deli meats for at-risk populations, like pregnant women and all those old people that unnecessarily died; and,
• market Maple Leaf’s food safety efforts at retail so consumers can actually choose.

Instead, you and your company decide to put your resources into a web site – who doesn’t need another web site – that says,

“Although Canada has one of the best food safety systems in the world, there are still 11 to 13 million cases of foodborne illness across the country each year. That means your ability to stay healthy—whether or not you’re pregnant—depends on what food you eat, how well you store your food at home, and how carefully you prepare it before you eat. …

“As the consumer, once you buy a food product, you are the next link in the chain that keeps your food safe and healthy. This website will give you the information you need to guide you in choosing the right foods, and preparing and storing them safely”

“Eat Safe! is brought to you by the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) in partnership with Maple Leaf Foods.

“The contents are for informational purposes only and should never replace the advice and care of a health care professional. Neither CPHA nor Maple Leaf Foods guarantees that the information is accurate, complete, or timely. Neither CPHA nor Maple Leaf Foods will be liable for any direct or indirect loss, damage, or injury caused by the use of this information. CPHA does not endorse and shall not in any way be seen as endorsing any products or services that may be referred in this website. Food Safety For Higher Risk Canadaians is brought to you by the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) supported through an unrestricted educational grant from Maple Leaf Foods Inc.”

Wow. Instead of saying, treat deli meats like raw chicken poop, or toxic waste, cause a lot of people can die in a listeria outbreak, CPHA offers up Maple Leaf-funded platitudes that consumers should do more.

I look forward to the evaluation of such nonsense being published in a peer-reviewed journal so the rest of us mortals can better understand the methodology and thinking behind such nonsensical statements.

I do like the multiple language components of the website, but the rest is derogatory, paternalistic, and corporate. It’s like listening to a Journey song and having someone insist it’s real rock and roll.

Another foodsafetyathome website – as bad as Journey

If you ran a $5.5-billion-a-year corporation that made a variety of ready-to-eat deli meats, and those products killed 22 people and sickened another 53, causing the company to lose millions and trust in the food safety system to be further undermined, how would you go about rebuilding that trust, that brand?

Maybe make public all the listeria test results the corporation undertakes in the form of a live, continuously updated website; maybe have live video cameras that people could check out on the Internet to see how these delicious deli-meats are made; maybe market these food safety initiatives at retail.

Or blame consumers.

Maple Leaf Foods announced yesterday as part of their continuing Journey to Food Safety Leadership – I wish they were already there, but Don’t Stop Believin’ – they were launching a food safety at home website.

“In keeping with our mandate of becoming a leader in food safety education, we have launched a new website to help consumers understand the important role of food safety at Maple Leaf and in your homes.”

(I have this stupid Journey video on in the background that I’m about to paste below and I can’t tell whether it’s the music or that statement that just made me barf a bit in my mouth.)

If Maple Leaf believes they can be leaders in food safety education, why is there no mention that pregnant women shouldn’t eat Maple Leaf or any other deli meats or other refrigerated ready-to-eat foods?

More data; less Believin’.

And Journey still sucks.

Food police targeting Vegemite?

I first heard the term Vegemite near the beginning of the worst decade of music ever, in 1981’s hit, Down Under, by Men at Work.

He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.

What’s a Vegemite?

This was the old days – before public access Intertubes and Google and Wikipedia.

I’ve since learned, and wiki confirms, that Vegemite is made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract, a by-product of beer manufacturing, and various vegetable and spice additives. The taste may be described as salty, slightly bitter, and malty – somewhat similar to the taste of beef bouillon. The texture is smooth and sticky, much like peanut butter. It is not as intensely flavoured as British Marmite and it is less sweet than the New Zealand version of Marmite. Fred Walker’s company first created and sold Vegemite in 1922.

The New Zealand Herald reports if the Australian Government has its way, Vegemite could be banished from supermarket shelves because of its high salt content.

A preventive health task force, set up by Canberra to examine ways of tackling Australia’s obesity problem, has canvassed the idea of taxing foods high in fat, sugar and salt. Although its final report is not due until June, the Australian Food and Grocery Council is already warning that Vegemite is under threat.

The Australian online news website Crikey suggested the Vegemite controversy had been cooked up by the industry body as a pre-emptive strike.

Below, a fine example of just how bad popular music became in the 1980s. Oh, and did anyone catch the worst band ever, Journey, performing their 1981 – what a terrible year – power ballad, Don’t Stop Believin’ for Super Bowl tourists as part of the pre-game show in what could only be termed a tune-up for their upcoming State Fair extravaganza? And Springsteen sucked. He usually does.

This could affect the next inspection: restaurant sickens health dept at Xmas meal

I’ve now concluded that people don’t invite me to dinner, not because I’m food safety man, not because I’m a jerk, but because I don’t like the band Journey.

Every time I write about the badness that is Journey, people insist on telling me how Journey power ballads impacted their lives in the early 1980s.

I’m also careful when people dine with me and Amy and Sorenne, cause food safety man making others barf would be, uh, awkward.

That’s probably how the owners of an unnamed southern Illinois restaurant feel after the head of the Lawrence County Health Department said she was among 42 people sickened during a buffet gathering of 72 people Dec. 15.

Phyllis Wells says the cause of the outbreak hasn’t been pinpointed, but she suspects that the culprit was a norovirus that can cause stomach distress. … For now, Wells says the common denominator appears to be ham served in the salad bar.