Misery may love company, as the age-old axiom has it, but that’s hardly a good reason for federal food safety watchdogs at the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and its provincial counterparts to keep piling more misery on the country’s multitude of smaller, mom-and-pop food merchants and distributors whose only crime is the misfortune of doing business with larger food processors caught up in the stubborn, nationwide listeria scare starting to resemble a script for a B-grade disaster flick.
Just as the beleaguered meat processor Maple Leaf Food Inc. was edging closer last month to reopening its ill-fated Barton Road plant in northern Toronto—having controversially deflected some of the blame onto the plant’s supplier of meat-slicing machinery—a similarly mysterious outbreak of listeria monocytogenes suddenly unleashed the perfect storm of public distrust and regulatory zeal on the country’s cheesemaking industry.
Not sure if anyone actually keeps such statistics, but something tells us that the good old ham-and-cheese sandwich is not exactly a fastselling lunchtime favorite these days.
Long-time readers of this magazine know that we don’t take the issue of food safety lightly and, like most right-thinking people, we find the federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz’s flippant remark about “death by a thousand cold cuts” an inexcusable display of smug arrogance and shocking insensitivity. (Albeit it revealed a surprising humor streak that many Canadians assumed was simply beyond the Tories’ DNA make-up).
It’s one thing to have a company like Ivanhoe Cheese Inc.—ostensibly well-equipped with all the necessary quality control data and product track-and-trace capabilities—to initiate a comprehensive recall of dozens of suspect cheese SKUs (stock-keeping units) to mitigate the potential health risk and all the negative fallout it entails.
But it’s a different reality for companies like Le Fromentier, an upstart cheese store in Montreal forced to dump 325 kilograms of cheese without any attempt by the Quebec Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) to test and inspect the product.
“I would rather they shut down the cheese store for a short period of time to carry out a thorough inspection,” says Le Fromentier’s trainer Oliver Laurin. “Just imagine the losses that cheese stores, especially small ones, might face. Financial loss isn’t the end of it—their reputation could easily be ruined.” (www.mcgilltribune.com, Sept. 16, 2008)