Roles and priorities
The management team of Maple Leaf Foods, Inc. played a crucial role in the 2008 Listeriosis outbreak and response. This team included President and CEO Michael McCain, who oversaw the company as it instituted recalls, facility cleansing and sanitization efforts, employee training on cleanliness and the disease, and new safety protocols. McCain also served to inform and reassure the public by holding a press conference during the outbreak. Another vital player in the company’s response to the crisis was spokesperson Linda Smith who handled media inquiries.
As “there are a number of stakeholders involved in a public health and food safety investigation and recall,” Maple Leaf Foods, Inc. worked in conjunction with the Canadian federal government during this time. (Canadian Food Inspection Agency [CFIA], 2009) The major agencies involved were the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and Health Canada (HC). On August 6, 2008, the Toronto Public Health Unit informed the CFIA of two listeriosis cases at a nursing home. The agency’s Office of Food Safety and Recall (OFSR) then conducted a food safety investigation, from August 7 to the 23rd, that ultimately linked the Listeria to meats produced at Maple Leaf Foods’ Bartor Road Facility. The agency contacted Maple Leaf Foods and issued a Health Hazard Alert, triggering the recall and retrieval of contaminated deli meats.
In its 2008 report, the PHAC outlined its “strong federal leadership role during the Listeriosis outbreak” as follows:
- The Outbreak Management Division in the Centre for Food-borne, Environmental and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases coordinated the national epidemiological investigation.
- The National Microbiology Laboratory led the laboratory arm of the national outbreak investigation, coordinating and analyzing all laboratory data including results generated elsewhere, and providing analyses and interpretation of genetic “fingerprints”.
- The Agency’s considerable investment in information technology infrastructure, namely the Canadian Network for Public Health Information, was invaluable for sharing information among local, provincial/territorial and federal organizations.
- The Emergency Operations Centre helped to facilitate extensive communication and coordination between federal, provincial/territorial and local public health officials, as well as with the Minister’s Office and Central Agencies which were intensely involved.
- The Communications Directorate led the national public health communications response with a variety of communications products for the general public, at-risk populations, and health practitioners. (Public Health Agency of Canada [PHAC], 2009)
Health Canada summarized its role in its own follow-up report. The agency described itself as “providing consistent and timely laboratory services to its federal partners, such as sampling, testing, and health risks assessments.” (Health Canada, 2009) In addition, HC “coordinated well with its partners in transferring and sharing relevant laboratory information” and “collaborated with its partners to provide timely advice on health and food safety to the public.”