August 29, 2009
Unacceptable A year after listeriosis, our food is no safer
”Whether the listeriosis outbreak has led to an overall improvement in the awareness of food safety among industry is maybe arguable. .”
There’s no doubt more rigorous tracking of listeria and sophisticated sanitation protocols are in place at Canada’s federally regulated meat plants, where operators were shaken by the realization that steps taken at Maple Leaf Foods Inc., an industry leader in food safety, weren’t as good as they needed to be to deal with the ubiquitous bacterium. But the agency is still wrestling with a resource problem that sees one meat inspector responsible for an average of five facilities, while struggling with a new oversight system that favours auditing of company paperwork over time on the plant floor. And the food safety system is much more than listeria and ready-to-eat meat plants, especially as the system becomes increasingly globalized and the ingredient chain in processed foods becomes more complicated.
Public health officials believe cases of food-borne illnesses affect between 11 to 13 million Canadians every year and kill up to 500 people.
But this globalized food system makes food-borne illnesses the largest class of emerging infectious diseases in Canada — a fact that appears to have caught the Public Health Agency of Canada off guard, according to Sheila Weatherill, who came to this conclusion after completing her independent investigation into last year’s listeriosis outbreak.
”I feel reasonably good about the level of safety of food in Canada, but our vulnerabilities are substantial. We could have a food-borne illness outbreak tomorrow from produce that would affect people from one end of this country to another. We don’t know how to address that appropriately at the moment. We’re continuing to put manure on crops and feeding these organisms that cause food-borne illness in humans to animals that we then eat as food and produce that is fertilized by the waste materials from them. Look, that’s just not too terribly bright in my mind.”
”I really believe what is fundamentally changed about food safety in Canada — and it is probably the best omen for the future — is the level of awareness that has played out at a number of levels of the past 12 months because, ultimately, I don’t think you can affect the kind of culture change that I think most people would say is fundamental to the strongest possible food safety system without that level of awareness.”
In the meantime, watch for the latest recall to trickle out, just like the pistachio one.