averaged 2 hours a day inside listeria-infected plant
of Article: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/06/10/listeria-inspectors-maple-leaf.html
Records show 25 instances of 15-minute inspections
Last Updated: Thursday, June 11, 2009 | 2:38 PM ET
Federal inspectors spent an average of just under two
hours a day at the meat plant at the centre of last summer's deadly
listeriosis crisis in the months leading up to the outbreak of the
food-borne illness, an analysis by CBC and the Toronto Star has found.
Slicer machines were disassembled to allow cleaning
of internal components deep within the equipment in the wake of listeria
crisis. (Maple Leaf Foods Inc./Canadian Press)
At least 22 people died after eating meat infected
with the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria processed at the Maple Leaf Foods facility
on Bartor Road in Toronto's north end.
Analysis by CBC and the Toronto Star showed
inspectors at the Bartor Road facility spent most of their time on
administrative tasks and little time on inspections.
Records, which were obtained through an access to
information request, also show that inspectors spent 15 minutes inside the
plant on 25 days between the beginning of 2007 and end of August, 2008.
In 2007, the average length of time spent on daily
inspections of the plant was around two hours. In the first half of 2008,
it dropped to an average of an hour and 20 minutes.
But in August, at the height of the listeria crisis,
inspectors were averaging five hours and nine minutes a day.
"If you're only averaging 100 minutes or less or
more a day, you have to ask yourself how can the inspectors adequately do
their job in a facility from a federal, regulatory point of view,"
Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter, told CBC News.
Easter called for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency
and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to explain why inspectors were spending
so little time in the plant.
Dedicated inspector needed: union
Asked by CBC News what an inspector can reasonably do
in 15 minutes, Tom Graham, CFIA's national inspection manager, responded:
"We do provide a daily presence in all our facilities. I'm not sure
what was going on during that day."
When asked if he can imagine a task that can be
accomplished in 15 minutes, Graham conceded, " Probably not, no."
The numbers didn't surprise Bob Kingston, president
of the union that represents the federal meat inspectors. "Those
numbers back up exactly what we've been saying from the beginning."
Kingston insists an inspector's entire 7.5-hour shift
should be devoted to a major facility such as the Bartor Road plant.
But instead, the daytime inspector who checks the
Toronto plant has his duties divided among six other facilities while the
night-time inspector oversees 15 others.
Although CFIA officials have insisted that they had
adequate staff to do the job properly at the Toronto facility, the agency
has now posted a full-time inspector at the facility who is in place
"at the moment."
But Kingston says he expects that inspector to be
re-assigned to other facilities once the focus shifts from the Maple Leaf
Food safety critics have blamed the deadly listeria
outbreak on insufficient numbers of inspectors.
Had there been a more vigorous inspection at the
Bartor Road plant, they argue, the inspectors may have been able to spot
the problem sooner and, in the process, saved lives.
Spending as little as 15 minutes a day, they say, is
an example of a serious lack of personnel.
At a parliamentary committee hearing examining the
listeria crisis, CFIA food processing supervisor Don Irons testified last
month that before the listeria outbreak, "we were grossly
resource-starved" on the floor.
When asked whether resources are now sufficient to
carry out the agency's inspection regime, he replied, "To implement
that 100 per cent, no, I do not."
In the wake of the listeria crisis, the agriculture
minister last August vowed to have another 58 people on the front lines by
But a CFIA memo tabled in the committee earlier this
week revealed that of 57 full-time employees hired, none are
"dedicated to meat inspection."
Agriculture ministry spokesperson Meagan Murdoch says
that "there is no discrepancy" between what the minister promised
and the memo, but refused to elaborate.
The agency insists that it has enough employees to
fulfil its mandate. A final report is expected from the parliamentary
committee studying the crisis by the end of June.
Time spent inspecting on plant floor
Conflicting information has also emerged about the
time inspectors spend on the plant floor.
In 2005, the agency downloaded more responsibility
for food safety on the industry and began requiring that companies keep
detailed records on all facets of their operations.
CFIA and the agriculture minister say inspectors
spend half their time reviewing company paperwork and the other half on the
plant floor, visually inspecting production lines and talking with staff
The CFIA's Graham insisted inspectors spent half
their time inspecting facilities, and predicted the percentage will rise as
inspectors become more familiar with the system.
In testimony before the parliamentary committee on
Monday, Cameron Prince, CFIA's vice-president of operations, was more
equivocal, calling the 50 per cent calculation "a global figure"
and admitted it can vary on a daily basis, plant to plant.
Though the union concedes that the CFIA has taken
important steps to improve food safety, such as requiring companies to test
for listeria and report results to agency, the union president says staff
shortages are still an issue.
Kingston says that if a similar analysis were
conducted of the time spent at many plants across the country, the numbers
would likely be similar to those uncovered at the Bartor Road facility.
While the inspection system appears valid on paper,
there's not enough staff to make it work, he says.
"And until they fix that problem, they're
gambling. And I think gambling in a reckless way," said Kingston.