Since August 2008 twenty-one Canadians have died after eating Maple Leaf deli meats contaminated with Listeria.  We all watched in horror as the worst food safety crisis in modern Canadian history rolled across the country.

There are six different kinds of Listeria.  Five of them are harmless.  The sixth, called Listeria monocytogenes is also safe if food is thoroughly cooked.  Healthy children and healthy adults are almost completely immune to Listeria, even the bad kind.  But it’s a different story for pregnant women, infants, people with damaged immune systems and the elderly. If they eat food with high concentrations of Listeria monocytogenes, they can get sick. Only about 4 in 1 million people contract listeriosis in Canada in a year. But sadly, about one-quarter of those vulnerable people who get sick from Listeria will die.

Last August’s tragedy began at our Bartor Road plant in Toronto.  We discovered after the fact – much too late – that there was a hidden spot deep within the slicing equipment that our regular sanitization missed, permitting Listeria to grow to high levels of concentration, high enough to make people sick.  It was the bad kind of ListeriaListeria monocytogenes.  And it ended up in deli meats that were largely distributed to nursing homes and hospitals, where a vulnerable population of Canadians ate it. Twenty-one people died.

This was by far the most awful event in the one hundred year history of our company.  I can’t properly describe the overwhelming sense of grief and responsibility we all felt … I felt, personally.  You may remember seeing me on television back then, apologizing for the tragedy and vowing to develop the most comprehensive anti-Listeria program of any food company in Canada…

Editor’s Note:  The above was taken from a recent entry on Maple Leaf’s blog, which Mr. McCain contributes to.   Go here for more.