Inspection report of Maple Leaf meat plant not altered: food agency

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Last Updated: Thursday, April 30, 2009 | 12:42 PM ET

CBC News

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has denied altering a report that questions whether Maple Leaf Foods cleaned all of its equipment at a Toronto meat processing plant six months before last summer's deadly listeriosis outbreak.

The report in question is from an inspection of the Toronto plant on Feb. 11, 2008.

In August 2008, the agency told the inspector to add a note indicating the company cleaned all the slicing machines and, as a result, there was no "food safety risk."

The agency's top officials faced questions on Parliament Hill about the report on Wednesday before a committee of MPs examining the listeriosis crisis.

Cameron Prince, the CFIA's vice-president of operations, told the committee the purpose of the note was not to alter or change the report in any way.

When the agency learned about the listeriosis problem, Prince said, CFIA officials reviewed all the inspection reports at the plant for the year 2008.

Prince said the food safety auditors spoke to the inspectors, got a full picture of what happened at that time and believed that the records did not indicate the full recollection of the inspectors.

"And in the course of that work, they came across some records, they interviewed the inspectors involved," Prince told MPs. "And in this very small percentage, there was additional information put on the record to clarify."

The Aug. 26, 2008, clarification on the inspection report reads, in part: "It was identified that all slicing equipment was being sanitized in the operator's frequency, however, the operator was not recording for all the lines. As the lines were being cleaned, no food safety risk was identified."

During an interview with reporters after his testimony, Prince said it didn't appear to him that the amended inspection reports looked suspicious.

"It's not uncommon for inspection records to be adjusted," he said.

But Bob Kingston, a former food safety inspector who is now president of the inspector's union, said it was wrong for the agency to ask the inspector to change the report.

"It was asinine for them to even ask. It was asinine for it to happen," Kingston said. "But there's an environment in the public service where people do what they're told."

In two previous appearances before the parliamentary committee, food inspection agency officials have insisted they handled the food crisis responsibly.

Twenty-two people across Canada died after eating Maple Leaf deli meats contaminated with listeria products that were traced back to the Toronto processing plant.

Maple Leaf Foods has said the most likely explanation for the listeria contamination was an accumulation of bacteria deep within its meat slicing equipment.

The company has apologized and agreed to pay up to $27 million to settle class-action lawsuits. It has since instituted more rigorous testing for listeria in plants producing ready-to-eat meat.

With files from The Canadian Press



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