Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Has Maple Leaf Foods Done All It Can To Protect Consumers?

August 12, 2009

Last week, Maple Leaf Foods announced yet another recall of products due to contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

In responding to comments on its recall of nine different varieties of Maple Leaf, Shopsy's and Hygrade brand wieners and hot dogs, the Company said:

"In Canada today, it takes on average about a week to get the results of a Listeria test. So if a test in a ready-to-eat food shows a potential food safety problem, the only way to address the problem is to recall the food … as much of it as hasn’t been eaten yet. Rapid testing done by labs in each plant cuts the time from a about one week to a day or two, providing us with information that allows us to act sooner at the plant. Maple Leaf will act immediately to implement rapid testing at our prepared meat plants when approved – and is pushing for government approval of these more rapid testing methods."

The above statement implies that the only method for detecting Listeria monocytogenes that has been approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ("CFIA") is the old, slow, horse-and-buggy era "conventional" method. This is not so. In addition to the "conventional" method, which takes about a week to produce a result, CFIA also accepts the use of a 2-day rapid method – the Qualicon Bax® System produced by Dupont – to test both environmental and finished product samples for the presence of Listeria monocytogenes.

With the government-sanctioned lab technologies available today, there is no excuse for a food processor to release products into the retail market before lab test results are available. The recalled wieners had a residual shelf life of more than one month from the August 3rd recall date. A 2-3 day product hold, while an inconvenience to the Company, would not have been unreasonable.

Maple Leaf Foods owes the Canadian consumer a true "test-and-hold" food safety program.

1 comment:

  1. Phyllis-
    Just wanted to clarify that Maple Leaf does use the DNA-based rapid test methodologies developed by DuPont Qualicon for both environmental and product samples. However, the CFIA stipulations around using rapid methods results in an average industry wait time of about 5 - 8 days. It is important to realize several facts about the policy. First, the new CFIA Listeria policy stipulates that results from the rapid methods are considered presumptive and cultural confirmation still must be done with the conventional method, so 2 to 3 additional days are required on confirmation of any positive samples. Second, modifications have been made by CFIA and Health Canada to the testing component portion of the policy since its release in February 2009, namely that requirement of an additional 24 hours of secondary enrichment and a recommended step of centrifugation, both of which add time and complexity to the standard protocol. Third, all testing must be conducted in accredited laboratories which typically requires commercial shipping of samples and potential longer wait times. Thus the end result for a given sample is typically not in our hands until about 5 - 8 days after the sample has been collected.

    I want to make one point of clarification in that Maple Leaf does have a true and effective ‘hold and test’ program in place as part of our enhanced food safety protocols which is based on industry best practices. While we have procedures in place to control Listeria, it is impossible to eliminate. I would refer you the detailed overview I provided on the circumstances surrounding the recent precautionary recall of hotdogs in my blog post (

    We are actively working with DuPont and other testing companies to evaluate new methods and work with CFIA to remove some of the hurdles to getting results faster so we can continue to raise the bar on industry performance ever higher.

    Randy Huffman
    Maple Leaf Foods
    Chief Food Safety Officer


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