Maple Leaf Foods Reopens Plant Linked To Listeria

Toronto food processing plant linked to Listeria-tainted meat hopes to restore consumer confidence as it prepares to relaunch products from that facility in stores next week.

TORONTO (CP) -- Maple Leaf Foods has reopened the Toronto plant linked to the nationwide Listeria outbreak and will now work to restore consumer confidence as it prepares to relaunch products from that facility in stores next week, CEO Michael McCain said Wednesday.

Maple Leaf and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are satisfied the plant can safely resume production -- after being closed nearly a month for sanitization and investigation -- and McCain said the company is confident that it has learned lessons from "this tragic experience."

"There's an old saying that my grandmother said a long time ago, 'that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger,' and I think we as an organization, and this country, will be stronger as a result," McCain said.

"We, and I think the government and all of the onlookers, will use this as a tremendous learning experience."

Seventeen deaths have been linked to the Listeria outbreak, another seven are under investigation and, in total, there have been 47 confirmed cases of listeriosis.

McCain conceded that Maple Leaf has a lot of work to do before consumers can trust the product again.

"I think there are some that respect the fact that we handled this in a responsible, precautionary way. Some of those individuals may give us back their confidence ... sooner rather than later. Others will take a lot longer," he said.

"We recognize that it's going to take time and commitment for us to earn that back and we're going to do that step by step by step. It won't happen overnight, it'll happen one person at a time."

At a previous news conference, McCain had said the company believed the Listeria bacterium may have accumulated in two slicing machines, even though they were cleaned on a daily, weekly and monthly basis as recommended by the manufacturer.

McCain said he believes the machines are safe to continue using with new, more stringent cleaning and testing protocols. The company will also start disassembling machines daily for cleaning.

The investigation that shut down the plant and the subsequent recall of 191 products produced at the facility cost the company an estimated $20 million.

On Tuesday, a Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government for its handling of the Listeria outbreak, saying it has reversed much of the progress previous governments made in relation to public health.

The editorial took aim at the Conservative government's decision to transfer inspection duties for ready-to-eat meats to the meat industry itself, while allowing Listeria standards to remain lower than they are in most countries and stripping the Public Health Agency of Canada of much of its political clout.

The editorial also made the case for a full-scale, arm's-length public inquiry similar to those launched for the tainted blood scandal, Walkerton and the SARS epidemic, rather than the investigation called for by the Harper government.

McCain said he supports the direction the CFIA has been moving in and doesn't believe more government inspections of products would have prevented the outbreak.

McCain said he would welcome more inspections in his plants, although he believes the best approach to ensuring food safety is to test the processes involved in producing food, and not test the final product.

"Inspecting the processes that build food safety into your product, one package at a time, is more important and more valuable and will create better food safety than trying and failing to inspect each individual package -- which is impossible," he said.

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