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.