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.