Thursday, May 27, 2010

Meat Me In Vancouver

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending Maple Leaf Foods' roundtable discussion on food safety.  I was slightly apprehensive about a) meeting other parent bloggers and b) parallel parking.  My fears were unfounded as I got a great drive-in parking spot and the bloggers were a friendly bunch.

Upon entering Quince Cooking School on Burrard, I was greeted by Sumaya Khan from Matchstick and a selection of cold beverages and appies. We got down to business at the long (not round) table as the Heather Locklear-esque Jeanette Jones, Maple Leaf's VP of Communications, laid out the agenda. Our main presentation came from Sharon Beals, Senior VP of Food Safety & Quality Assurance. She was actually hired this past January, after the listeria outbreak had occurred, and probably because of it.  Her interview actually began with, "Sharon, we killed 22 people."  And she still took the job.  How's that for passion in your field?

She got right into the meat of the subject: the listeria outbreak.  Turns out listeria is an environmental pathogen that is brought in from outside and thrives in cold, damp places like a meat processing plant, for example.  Even after they disassembled and disinfected every piece of machinery, the contamination reoccurred.  It was hiding in a small hole in one of the meat cutters, an electrical wire conduit, that was breeding and recontaminating with listeria.  After breaking the seal (and voiding the machine warranty), they were able to eradicate the bacteria and begin the process of reevaluating their food safety procedures.

They changed traffic patterns in the plant, implemented new sterilization procedures, installed boot-washing equipment, required sleeve guards and location-specific coloured lab coats, and performed test after test of every surface to ensure they were leaving pathogens at the door.  More tests, in fact, than were required by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  They conducted vigorous, ongoing training exercises, including hand washing, with the help of a Wii-like device for interactive training.  They even held a conference and invited their competitors to share their food safety knowledge in the hopes that future outbreaks and deaths can be prevented. 

After a Q&A period where I felt the answers were honest and forthright, I asked myself these questions:

  • Did I believe their remorse for the deaths and illnesses that occurred? Yes.
  • Did I believe that their food safety practices have changed? Yes.  It's not something you can sweep under the rug and hide; there will always be a need for accountability.
  • Do I think they are doing everything possible to prevent another recurrence?  Yes.  I was left with the impression that they take food safety very seriously, and they do want to become leaders in food safety.

I know what you're wondering: Did I eat the meat products at dinner?  You bet.  And they were yummy. 

Chef John Placko (Director of Culinary Excellence from MLF) served us a new Maple Leaf frozen product: portobello mushroom and red pepper stuffed chicken.  We were introduced to another new product line, Maple Leaf Naturals lunch meat.  The tasty sundried tomato asiago baked bread we were served as an appy turned out to be Dempster's Oven Fresh bread (from Canada Bread, owned by MLF). Wow.

When we left with the answers we were looking for, we were given two insulated zippered bags.  One contained an assortment of thank-you gifts: the mushroom chicken, natural turkey and ham, bread, a digital meat thermometer, an apron, a USB stick with promo material, and a gas card to cover our travel.

The other bag, I am pleased to say, is to give away right here!  There are four loaves of the Dempsters vacuum-sealed bread (good 'til July and good baked with cheese), a digital meat thermometer, a Maple Leaf apron and coupons for a free Maple Leaf Naturals and $5 off (good only in Canada, sorry my American friends).

So who wants a cool red insulated bag of goodies?  It's easy-peasy.  Just leave a comment below letting me know if you're following my blog-of-awesomeness by Google Friend Connect or Twitter. I'll draw a random name on June 4th. That's all.  I told you it was easy.

EDITED: The contest for the bag is closed but here's a chance to win a 1GB Maple Leaf USB drive. Fill out a short survey and then add your comment below to let me know you've completed it. Ends June 28th.

** I was compensated for my participation and review in the form of products from Maple Leaf Canada.  I did not sell my soul for free carbs and tasty meat but I will work for food.  The opinions expressed above are my own and made of my own free will and by rubbing my two brain cells together. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mousy Dung

Guess who made another visit to my office?  Mouse Tse Tung!  How do I know?  He left his calling card on my desk.  I left him a present too.  I hope he likes parmesan cheese! Oh snap!

If I weren't so afraid they'd get lost outside, I would bring the kittens and introduce him to Meowsie's Tongue.  Mrrrrrowww!

Good news! He liked the parmesan cheese. Bad news, the trap didn't spring. Good news! He liked the cheese from my co-worker's sandwich and the trap sprung. Better news! Said co-worker disposed of the body. So far, no more poopy! Yay!

Monday, May 17, 2010

12 Steps to a Nervous Breakdown:

1. Wake up Monday morning
2. Listen to child whine about not wanting to go to school
3. Get to work late
4. Discover mouse poopy and tiny urine footprints on desk
5. Disinfect entire desk, keyboard, mouse, calculator, pens etc.
6. Wash hands
7. Freak out every time you put your fingers near your mouth
8. Wash hands again
9. Burn mouth on hot coffee trying to kill germs in mouth
10. Stare at piles of paperwork waiting to be entered
11. Rest chin in palm
12. Scrub hands and wipe face with shaking, scalded hands

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Table Talk

I've been invited to a roundtable forum for food safety by the folks at

If you've been living under a rock (or perhaps outside of Canada), you might not know that back in 2008 there was a huge listeria contamination at one of the Maple Leaf Foods processing plants in Ontario.  This led to a huge recall, a wave of fear, and many cases of listeriosis among consumers of the tainted lunch meats. 22 people died from listeriosis or complications of the illness.

Maple Leaf, trying to improve their reputation for food safety and regain brand confidence, would like to address the changes made to improve food safety standards and procedures.  In the video below, Michael McCain, President of MLF, outlines these changes.  In a nutshell: sanitation protocols, testing, training, food safety leadership.

Maple Leaf Foods has been in the meat-packing business for over 80 years; they are not new to the game.  (Being a Canadian brand, it's unlikely this product is exported.  If you're in the USA, compare this to the salmonella outbreak in the peanut butter processing plant in Georgia last year in which 9 people died, sparking a major recall.)  

If you had the chance to ask Maple Leaf Foods about the recall, their commitment to responsible food safety practices, or anything else, what would you ask?  I would be happy to pose these questions to the representatives on Wednesday, May 19th and report back.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Step Into My Office

Close the door and turn on the fan.  This is where I do some of my best work.  Don't let the lack of desk fool you.  This cube is alllll business.  No windows for distraction.  Soothing waterfall in hot or cold.  It's a little bit of zen.

Meet my right-hand man, Hans Fuller, who helps me multitask on my Blackberry.  Don't worry, we have a special stainless steel dock for when we get down to dirty work, complete with sterile paper rolls.  Hans keeps me up to date on my emails in this office, but always holds my calls.  Don't mistake him for his cousin, Hans Free, who accompanies me on travel.

I do a lot of international business here. A lot of urgent business from the Asian market. Mostly with Pee Ying (we meet several times a day), but sometimes with Pu Shing too.  We get a lot of repeat business.

At the end of every meeting, Wai Ping always helps.  Then there's Wah Sheng, who is obsessive about cleanliness and is always washing Hans.  Only after these rituals am I allowed to pick up my Blackberry.  They're sticklers for tradition.

Sometimes I get an urgent message from the folks down south (they like everything fried).  A little uncouth, these rednecks just seem to pop in with little notice.  Like Willy May Kitt.  Some say he lacks fibre; I find him a pain in the ass.

The more refined British clients prefer to knock, and if the time is not convenient, they will come back later.  Sir John Pinchworthy is a man of substance and much character.

Then there are the crazy Cajuns, RenĂ© and GaspĂ© N. Le Loup (pronounced Run-NAY and Gas-PAIN Le LOO). Very unpredictable to do business with but always a show. 

I try to keep my meetings brief, although I`m the only one to use this office.  The one across the hall is shared among 4 or 5 men, and I`m not sure they have the same personal valet service.  In fact, I think they do most of their work standing around, with very little focus and aim. When they do sit down, the place is kind of a dump.  It`s not the kind of place you`d want to take the floor.  There always seems to be an ass at every meeting I`m in, but at least I don`t have to deal with a bunch of dicks as well.

My home office has an open-door policy, and is a very supportive environment.  Always R&D materials to read through, natural light, WiFi, even wet-naps.  There is no pushing to get things done, no deadlines.  Real towels instead of paper ones.  Sure, you have to share, but with three offices to choose from, you`re almost guaranteed to have a productive meeting day or night.  I know when it`s time to roll up my sleeves and get down to business, Hans is always right there by my side.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Patron Saint of Pants

Let me preface this by saying my mom was a hippie and really believed in the whole reduce, reuse, recycle thing, and that my budget can't always contend with my yen to spend.  To maintain the thrill but not the bill, I frequent certain second-hand shops for clothing to augment my wardrobe.  Think of them as hand-me-downs, but from a stranger.  Plus you'll never be caught deer-in-a-headlight at a family function when someone exclaims, "Isn't that Aunt Martha's old dress and Uncle Bob's high heels?"  As long as it's not knickers and it's washed, I think it's fine and you can spend your savings on chocolate, which also reduces endorphins (and requires bigger pants).  It's the circle of life, my friends.

Anyway, this past weekend my sister-in-law and I spent hours perusing the racks at Value Village (or as we call it, the VV Boutique).  You know those little rolling hand-baskets that you can pull behind you?  Ours were stacked to a precarious 3 feet of clothes to try on.  I quickly poked through the girls pajamas on the way to the change rooms but found nothing of interest until...I found two pairs of abandoned jeans hanging at the end of the rack -- in my size!  One blue, and one a very deep and new-looking black.  I think I heard choirs of angels sing.  Onto the pile they went.

The sign said "Limit 6" but didn't say of what, so I wheeled my one basket in and tried on some clothes. The blue jeans weren't to my liking, so I shimmied into the black ones. And guess what?  They fit like a glove! An ass-glove, that is. In length too, which is damn-near a miracle. I swear they couldn't have been worn more than a couple of times; they were impeccable.  The name said it all: Denver Hayes Curvy.  That's me!  I mean the curvy part. Thank you Fairy Pants Mother!

A few tops, a pair of capris and some sweet Roxy slippers (which, along with some tops, still had the original tags on!) completed my treasured finds.  I wore the pants today and I've got to say they are hands-down the most comfortable jeans ever!  I've sourced them out to Mark's Work Wearhouse of all places, and they happen to be on sale this month.  Methinks I will be picking up another pair!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dinah's Vagina

It's that time of year my letter from my doctor's office reminding me to book an appointment for my pap test (pap smear just sounds so dirty -- I know you smear the sample on the slide, but really, do we need to think about smearing things around?). Like the good procrastinator I am, I finally got around to phoning after a month or so. Our clinic has just started a Well-Women program, where the new female doc from South Africa does all the gyno appointments late into Tuesday nights for anyone who feels more comfortable with a woman. Hey, I'll swing either way, but since she's available and the appointments are in the evening... The earliest I could get in to see her was 6 weeks! Talk about popular!

So my Tuesday night rolls around and I've refrained from eating beans, cabbage, dairy and such, I'm waxed and showered for my big date. I get in the car and immediately my tank is full of gas. WTF??? I release some pressure and for the whole 5-minute trip I am putt-putting along, all the while telling myself, "Don't fart, don't fart". It's true what they say, your brain doesn't hear don't.

I have barely sat in the waiting room and my name is called. Down the hall I'm given a paper gown, which I'm told can go on front or back. I remove my clothes and think I'll leave the front open for the breast exam, but the rustly paper doesn't quite have enough girth to stay closed. So I opt for the opening in the back. Being 5'2", I'm well-acquainted with the step, so I pull it out from the table and back my behind up to the paper-lined table. As I raise my cheeks to sit, the whole table begins to tip and slams down with a metallic bang. Frig. This thing's not weighted down at all. I hope no one comes in to see what the banging is about! Several clangs and bumps later, I'm sitting on the table with my naked butt facing the door because the stirrups are facing away from the door. For obvious reasons... This gown is clearly not made for modesty. I try to tuck my cheeks in without tearing the gown and remind myself not to fart. I do some deep breathing and mental self-talk.

The lovely doctor comes in and introduces herself and immediately I like her. She's a little chubby, has a great accent and cute shoes. When my doctor retires, I want her. Her easy conversation puts me at ease, and her plastic speculum is not cold like the metal ones I'm used to. Also, she doesn't use half a tube of Spectro Gel (I'm not old and dried up, my lubrication systems works fine, thank you). Her exam is very thorough, and I'm not embarrassed to ask any questions. She writes me up for blood work to see if my thyroid, hormone, and blood count levels are normal, because I'm so often fatigued and fat-assed. It always comes back normal, so maybe I'm just lazy and eat too much!

The breast exam reveals a small lump in my left boob, so she refers me to radiology for a scan to make sure it's just a cyst. My mom has lots of cysts in her breasts but my grandma had breast cancer, so better safe than sorry. (Turns out the earliest I can get in is July, which is really not that much of a wait considering things are usually backed up like an old man off his prunes.) I'm not worried because there's nothing to worry about yet. If I get bad news I'll start worrying then.

Anyway, the appointment is over so I gingerly hop off the table with much less effort and a lot less noise.  Back in the car, my butt sighs with relief. I open a window.

Two weeks later, I haven't heard anything back from the pap test so it's "no news is good news". I guess my hoo-hah is happy and healthy. Hooray!  Now to hear what my blood and my boob have to say.