Maple Leaf dismisses hygiene breaches at Listeria plant

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Maple leaf Food safety Food

The discovery of mould, meat debris and slime in the Maple Leaf plant at the centre of the 2008 Listeria outbreak just weeks after it re-opened did not pose food safety concerns, the company said.

Maple Leaf was responding to the publication of findings from inspection reports detailing a number of hygiene breaches at the Bartor Road plant in Toronto less than a month after production had restarted following a temporary closure for cleaning. The facility, responsible for the Listeria outbreak that killed 22 in late 2008, had reopened on September 18.

Slim and mould, no safety concerns

But on October 10, Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) officials discovered mould on the walls and floor, slime underneath a meat-trimming table, leftover meat on wheeled container bins and rusty equipment, reported the Canadian Press. Other problems were detected during an inspection 10 days later when "an employee in a grey jacket lifted a floor broom over a finished food product conveyor belt during operation to sweep in between the conveyors”​. In December, more breaches were noted.

Writing on his blog yesterday, Dr Randy Huffman, chief food safety officer for the meat giant, said the infringements had been uncovered as part of a rigorous joint daily inspection regime by the CFIA and Maple Leaf.

“The average reader must be wondering how this plant could have so many issues only a month after re-opening from causing one of the worst food safety crises in Canada,”​ he said. “As part of these ongoing and rigorous inspections, issues were identified, acknowledged and documented.”

Huffman added: “The CFIA and Maple Leaf determined at the time that there was no food safety concern. What this very detailed inspection process provided was an early indicator of potential issues in the plant that need to be corrected. And we corrected them. Immediately.”

Safety upgrades

In the 12-14 months since then, the company had invested over C$5 million in upgrades at the Bartor Road plant - including repairs to floor and wall surfaces, air handling systems, caulking, better separation of raw and cooked areas of the plant, new pallets and new slicing and packaging equipment. More than 200 new operating procedures had also been introduced and staff had been retrained, said the Maple Leaf food safety head.

However, the head of the federal food inspectors' union, Bob Kingston, expressed concerns over the findings. Citing the incidents of a broom sweeping over the top of a finished product and the risk of cross contamination from wheels on cart moving through tainted moisture, he said: "Those are things that people should be concerned about. And there's a fair amount of repetition here, too."

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