Slow response, poor communication blamed for Maple Leaf listeriosis outbreak

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By Ann Bagel Storck on 7/22/2009


A slow response from Canadian government officials and poor communication with the public were among many factors identified by Sheila Weatherill, who was appointed by the federal government to lead an independent investigation, as causes behind Maple Leaf Foods' listeriosis outbreak last summer that killed 22 people.

Weatherill, who formerly led the public health system in Edmonton, Alberta, offered 57 recommendations to improve food safety in her report. Among those suggestions were that higher-risk plants be tested more frequently than others; that Canada's chief public health officer have a larger role during foodborne illness outbreaks; and that meat processing equipment be designed with an eye toward limiting the spread of pathogens.

The report was the result of six months of work and more than 100 interviews. To read the full report, click here.

Weatherill's conclusions follow another report released earlier this summer by a House of Commons agriculture committee. (See Food safety overhaul recommended by Canadian ag committee, Meatingplace, June 19, 2009.)

"This report is tough and it ought to be, with strong recommendations for further improving the Canadian food safety system," said Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, in a news release. "We thought we had a good food safety program last August, but our efforts failed with tragic consequences. Since then we have transformed every aspect of our food safety program. We cannot and will not forget the lessons of last August, and that means imposing the highest standard of food safety in every product we make."


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