CANADA: Maple Leaf teaches food safety
Posted: April 22nd, 2012 - 3:57pm
Source: Agri 007
Mississauga – As unlikely as it seems, food safety professionals look to a sanitation executive at J.M. Schneider Inc. and Maple Leaf Foods Inc. for advice on keeping their plants, equipment and products safe.
Schneiders was involved in the biggest food recall in Canadian history when its lunchmate products were identified as responsible for hundreds of sickened school children in the spring of 1998.
Eventually 65 people ended up in hospital with severe symptoms and more than 800 cases were confirmed by public health units, giving rise to estimates that upwards of 8,000 Canadians probably suffered some degree of food poisoning.
It was after Maple Leaf Foods bought Schneiders and Larry Mendes moved there to eventually become sanitation programs manager, that Maple Leaf’s Barton Road plant became embroiled in an even bigger food-poisoning scandal that resulted in at least 20 deaths and a $27-million class-action lawsuit settlement.
Despite that – or perhaps because of what he learned through those and other experiences- Mendes has won a number of food-safety and sanitation awards, including from the Ontario Food Protection Association where he was a feature speaker at its Spring Technical Conference at the Mississauga Convention Centre recently.
The Barton Road listeria source was eventually traced to the insides of a meat-slicing machine. The company and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have responded with new protocols for sanitizing those and similar machines.
Mendes stressed careful cleaning of equipment in his presentation, including pictures to show how hollow rollers on conveyors need to be opened, cleaned and sterilized, how every nook and cranny needs to be cleaned and sanitized and how electronic and electric panels needs to be opened for cleaning. At the 28 Maple Leaf plants, sanitation staff now need to put a sticker inside those control panels to indicate when it was cleaned and sanitized and who did it.
Maple Leaf staff also meet weekly now to assess food safety, and the teams include maintenance staff and production staff, not just the sanitation crew.
Mendes stressed the importance of having the chief executive officer and all of the management ranks putting high priority of food safety.
In the United States, a number of companies have ended in bankruptcy when their products have been found responsible for outbreaks of food poisoning, That hasn’t happened in Canada where Schneiders and Maple Leaf remain leading brands.
Mendes said sanitation is “like a hide and seek game, except you can’t see micro-organisms.”
Food processors therefore collect and test swabs to detect harmful bacteria.
Mendes said Maple Leaf tests 230,000 swabs a year, 60,000 of them aerobic plate counts and 60,000 total plate loop counts.
He said “the beauty” of plate loop counts is that the company doesn’t need to report the results to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It is required to report any positive test results for listeria and other harmful bacteria, such as E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella typherium type two.
Mendes said high total plate loop counts have a high correlation with harmful bacteria, so a high-count result prompts the company to do further testing to determine whether there are harmful bacteria in the products or the plant.
He said one new approach to sanitation that is proving highly effective is “heat intervention” which involves high-humidity heating to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit (70 C) for at least 30 minutes or dry heating that hot for at least four hours.
“I’ve never seen equipment that can be sanitized short of heat intervention,” Mendes said, showing pictures of equipment that has been enclosed in bags for the fogging and heat treatment.
He also said “heat interventions is something fairly new in our industry.”
But he also said effective sanitation involves “multiple interventions” such as washing, sanitizing chemicals, thorough staff training and frequent re-training and swabbing in out-of-the-way places such as nooks and crannies, inside electrical and electronic control panels, inside hollow rollers, underneath conveyor belts and in metal equipment channels.
Maple Leaf conducts quarterly audits which include the plant manager.
Maple Leaf has an eight-steps cleaning program now, up from three when Mendes started 32 years ago at Schneiders, and he said it’s a mistake to skip the final step, which is inspection, figuring that the next-shift crew will be doing a quality check and swabs before it starts processing.
“Micro (-organism) control is a battle that food processors can’t afford to lose,” was Mendes’ concluding comment.