We commit to becoming a global leader in food safety. Our Chief Food Safety Officer will lead the implementation of best practices in sanitation, testing, technologies, product formulations and manufacturing, and has the authority to stop production at any plant where he believes there may be a risk to food safety.
We commit to building a strong culture of food safety, with high performance teams, through continuous training, education and communicating results. Our people are encouraged and expected to act on any food safety concern they may have to improve our food safety practices.
We commit to following the highest standard of testing and analysis to identify potential risk. Any test that raises food safety concerns will result in immediate quarantine, with no products leaving the plant until the Company and government regulatory authorities are confident that the food is safe.
We commit to setting and meeting high standards and measuring our performance against the Global Food Safety Initiative standards through independent audits which will also allow us to continuously improve.
We commit to openly sharing our knowledge with industry, government and consumers, so we can learn from them and they can learn from us, in pursuit of better food safety at every step of preparation.
We commit to placing public interest and consumers first, by behaving in the most responsible and transparent way possible if there is ever a breach in our food safety system.
This is Maple Leaf’s Food Safety Pledge.
On Behalf of All Maple Leaf Foods Employees
Michael H. McCainPresident and Chief Executive Officer
Becoming a global leader in food safety
Excerpt from Maple Leaf Foods 2009 Annual Report, telling shareholders, lenders and government about Maple Leaf Foods number one strategic priority:
Become a global food safety leader
Investing in food safety has always been the right thing to do, to protect consumers and reduce risk. We are moving even further ahead by implementing a three-year food safety plan that not only encompasses every aspect of our food production but sets global standards of excellence for ourselves and our suppliers.
Effective cleaning, keeping food preparation areas completely sanitary, is a key part of the fight against foodborne bacteria like Listeria or Salmonella, whether in a Maple Leaf Foods facility or your home. Experts concluded that the type of Listeria that caused illness and death in 2008 originated in a small harbourage point deep inside one of the meat slicers. Our cleaning practices, which had met or exceeded the specifications of the equipment manufacturer, were subsequently completely assessed and expanded based on expert advice from around the world. After every production day, dedicated and trained sanitation crews disassemble, clean and sanitize the slicers, in addition to all the other processing equipment in the facility. Every week the sanitation crews have a dedicated list of the more complex equipment, such as slicers, that must be taken apart to a much greater degree for deep cleaning. Our teams use controlled steam tenting of these complex machines, to provide an effective kill step for Listeria and other bacteria that may linger after normal cleaning procedures. We were fortunate to have learned some of these new best practices, such as steam tenting of complex equipment, from other leading food companies and we have also shared our new learnings on sanitation with other companies so that they can use these techniques as well.
Testing works hand in hand with sanitization to ensure food has been prepared safely. Maple Leaf Foods has two different types of testing. Product tests are exactly what the term implies – tests done on finished product. In 2009, we conducted 1,300 of these tests on ready-to-eat products. More important is our “environmental testing” program, which provides an assessment of the processing environment and allows our in-plant team to obtain an early indication about the effectiveness of the entire food safety plan. We test for Listeria and other bacteria on a daily basis across every part of our meat processing facilities, with particular emphasis on the actual food preparation areas. This tells us if we have bacteria in our facility. Then our cleaning procedures kick back into gear to eradicate the bacteria in locations where it has been identified. In 2009, we conducted over 120,000 environmental tests across our plants, looking for evidence of Listeria or other foodborne bacteria. That is at least 70,000 tests – or 150% - more than required by federal government regulations for our facilities.
Also, when assessing the causes of the 2008 tragedy, we realized that the method used to analyze test results was inadequate. We researched global best practices and found better systems for pattern analysis that would help us spot emerging problem areas before they get to the food and help us identify root causes should one of our internal tests come back positive. We quickly adopted this new practice of detailed pattern analysis which is now in place across our entire plant network. Test results are reviewed every weekday morning at 8:30 a.m. by the Chief Food Safety Officer and the entire food safety team. If we have a positive test on a food contact surface we immediately quarantine all products off that line and conduct an intensive deep cleaning of the equipment and surrounding areas. The facility management team initiates an intensive investigation into the root cause and implements corrective actions. The line will only return to normal after three consecutive days of negative test results from the same sampling site. While it is impossible to totally eliminate bacteria, the combination of our massive testing program and our advanced analytics act as an early warning system and offer real protection to consumers.
Culture of food safety
A culture of food safety results from three things – workers who want to do the right thing, workers being empowered to do the right things, and education and training that give them the tools. To effectively achieve these three things, a company must first have senior management commitment, and at Maple Leaf we have this commitment. We are one of the few major food companies to establish the executive-level position of Chief Food Safety Officer, reporting directly to the CEO. His job is to ensure we meet our commitment to become a global food safety leader and build a culture of food safety. Every day, Dr. Huffman and his team review test results with our operations leaders, making sure food safety is top of mind. These test results are transparently communicated across our facilities and with our executive leaders every day. When there is a potential food safety concern, we send in a team of experts to understand where the potential source of bacteria is and to eliminate it. Most importantly, our people are empowered and expected to act on any food safety concern they may have – even if that means stopping production. The President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, Michael McCain, has declared food safety leadership as the top priority of the company. In 2009, over $20 million was spent to improve our food safety program.
Continuous training, education and communicating results
We know that Maple Leaf employees are on the front line in our pledge to be at the leading edge of food safety. We are only as good as our employees. They are passionate about the work they do and the quality of the products they make. We are doing a lot more to support them, since the listeriosis tragedy of 2008. Through training and improving their knowledge and awareness regarding potential food safety risks, and how to reduce and ultimately eliminate them.
Food safety education is a pillar of our Food Safety Strategy. All of our front line employees receive training in food safety when they join the company. They also receive at least 20 hours of ongoing training throughout the year. We are also establishing an interactive computer-based food safety training program at all our plants geared to provide easy to understand and impactful messages about food safety requirements to our front line employees. In partnership with the University of Guelph, a leader in food science and technology, we have also developed and begun implementation of a unique program to immerse our operations managers in all aspects of food safety. Over 425 people are expected to complete this program, including all of our executive team. Starting with leaders, it’s an important part of driving a culture of food safety throughout Maple Leaf.
Far more testing than regulations require
Testing is the verification that our other food safety efforts have been successful. Like conducting routine tests within the school system, our testing for foodborne pathogens verifies our system is working and detects any problems early. We use testing aggressively - not to make things look good, but to make sure things are good. In 2009, we conducted over 120,000 tests for bacteria in our food preparation facilities, looking for evidence of Listeria or other food borne bacteria. That is at least 70,000 tests more than would be required by federal government regulations for our facilities and one of the most rigorous testing protocols in North America.
Recalling any products that do not meet our high standards
No company can guarantee 100% safe food. Foodborne bacteria cannot be eliminated in the variety of products that are common in the marketplace, but bacteria can be effectively controlled with the right systems. Our testing program is designed to detect pathogens in our meat processing facilities so they can be eliminated. The problem in our Bartor Road plant in 2008 that caused the death of 23 Canadians resulted from contamination deep inside one of our slicing machines and a high concentration of Listeria monocytogenes, the only type of Listeria which can cause human illness, getting into a small number of our products. The food safety program we now have in place will ensure this never happens again. But we cannot guarantee that a small amount of bacteria may not, at some point, be detected in one of our products – in fact Listeria monocytogenes is typically found in one out of every 200 ready-to-eat food products across North America and for most people is harmless. But for a small segment of the population it is extremely serious. For that reason, we will always place public health and consumer interests first, even when the risk is remote, by exercising extreme caution and voluntarily recalling products where there is any question regarding food safety.
Global Food Safety Initiative
The Global Food Safety Initiative represents the current global best practice when it comes to food safety systems. We are in the process of having every one of our food preparation facilities – both bakery and packaged meats operations - certified against this world leading standard. We have committed ourselves to being global leaders in food safety and that means measuring ourselves against the toughest standard.
To ensure we meet the standards of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), our facilities will be audited annually by third party auditors who are accredited to audit the specific type of food production facilities that we operate against the GFSI standards. This is in addition to regular audits conducted by our internal food safety leaders.
Openly sharing our knowledge with industry, government and consumers
Our objective is to build stronger food safety practices in Canada, across the industry. To that end, anything Maple Leaf Foods learns about better food safety practices, we share. To government, we publicly advocated a new and much tougher set of requirements of food companies, and more government inspectors to enforce those standards. We continue to press the government to enforce those standards on imports into Canada and on all food production facilities in Canada. To the industry, we have and will continue to sponsor symposiums and provide technical briefings on best practices in food safety. When a company in Canada encounters a problem with Listeria or other foodborne bacteria, we offer the learning and expertise Maple Leaf Foods has developed since August 2008. For consumers, we are committed to supporting food safety education, particularly to people who are most vulnerable, such as the elderly, immune-compromised individuals or pregnant women. We have, among other things,