“It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
The former New York Yankees famous player and manager could have been talking about what American food safety authorities found during their latest audit of Canada’s meat inspection system.
It has been the same story for a long time.
According to the audit, basic sanitation problems and cleanliness concerns continue to haunt facilities that produce ready to eat products and meat slaughter facilities whose products are eaten by Canadians and Americans alike.
These are the same issues that contributed to the Maple Leaf Foods listeria disaster that killed 23 Canadians and triggered the massive recall of XL Foods beef products in 2012 because of E. coli contamination.
You will recall that the inspector responsible for the Maple Leaf plant at Bartor Rd. in Toronto which produced the contaminated cold cuts was responsible for six facilities spread across the city…an assignment no mortal could possibly complete.
American authorities who routinely audit the food safety systems of countries which import products into the US failed to pinpoint the reason for the never-ending recurrence of these fatal shortcomings.
But after seeing firsthand what most inspectors have to deal with everyday as an inspection supervisor, a significant part of the answer is obvious to me.
There is a critical shortage of inspection resources in Canada. It’s that simple.
There are not enough hours in the day for our food safety inspectors to complete the assignments given to them in a manner that ensures food companies are complying with all the safety regulations and requirements.
When the whistle is blown and inspectors require companies to fix problems that could endanger the public, inspectors are then often too busy with other important inspection duties or some new crisis to properly follow up on enforcement actions. We are spread too thinly to make sure that the food companies – who obviously need better safety oversight – comply.
Ottawa recently passed the Safe Food for Canadians Act which calls for the government to conduct an audit to determine if there are enough food inspectors to safeguard the public.
The government must do this work now because it appears the inspection shortage in this country is undermining public safety. As a science-based agency they should want to know if they have what’s needed to deliver their own plans, and with a new minister it might be a good time for a fresh start.