Listeriosis Outbreak in Maple Leaf Foods
Maple Leaf Foods Inc. is a Canadian consumer packaged meats corporation headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario. It is the second-largest miller-flour in Canada with approximately 26% of the local market share. It also produces hot dogs, sliced meats and hams made with natural ingredients. There are more than 20 000 employers in the corporation across Canada, the U.S.A., Europe and Asia (Maple Leaf Foods, Wikipedia). Maple Leaf Foods prides itself on its commitment to food safety, saying that its meat processing facilities have undergone federal inspections and meet the highest standards of food safety in Canada. In addition, the corporation claims to be in compliance with the scientific preventive food safety system, the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), which has been recognized as the global standard (Maple Leaf Foods Inc. Annual Report 2008).
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However, in the summer of 2008, Maple Leaf Foods faced the worst listeriosis outbreak in Canadian history. Listeriosis is an infection caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The contaminated deli meats originated from the Maple Leaf Foods Bartor Road facility in Toronto, Ontario. There have been 57 confirmed cases and 22 confirmed deaths across Canada. More than 200 Maple Leaf Foods products were recalled, and four separate class-action lawsuits were filed in Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. The total economic costs incurred by the corporation, including market losses and lawsuit settle fees, exceeded $50 million (2008 Canada listeriosis outbreak, Wikipedia).
The root cause(s) of the issue
Listeriosis is a relatively rare infection caused by Listeria monocytogenes, which are widespread in the world around us, including in soil, water and vegetation (Listeriosis, Wikipedia). Most people can consume products containing Listeria monocytogenes without getting ill because our immune systems are strong enough to fight off infection. Healthy adults and children occasionally get infected with Listeria, but rarely become seriously ill. Almost all listeriosis cases arise through the foodborne route. However, some people, including pregnant women and their unborn children, old people, and immunocompromised individuals, experience life-threatening effects from listeriosis, such as meningitis, encephalitis, and sepsis (Bortolussi 2008).
Listeria monocytogenes is able to grow at temperatures ranging from 0 oC to 37 oC. In addition, there is no change to the appearance, smell or taste of foods containing Listeria, so it is difficult for a food handler or a consumer to identify contaminated products.
After careful study of the records, a panel of international food safety experts concluded that the most likely source of the contamination was meat residue in the Bartor Road plant, which accumulated deep inside the slicing machines of two production lines in the processing plant. The equipment sanitization process was completed in accordance with the recommended manufacturer’s cleaning protocols on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. However, upon full disassembly, the residue was found deep inside the slicing machines, providing an ideal environment for the Listeria bacteria to multiply and subsequently contaminate the deli meats produced on the lines. (Government of Canada, 2009)
Cost of Quality
Quality is very important and a company should always focus on quality improvement. This is decided by the Competitive Landscape: They suffer from pressure for organizations to become more productive and more efficient. They need innovative products faster; They need improved quality at less cost; They need increased production volumes with less resource; They need to reduce cycle time while improving customer satisfaction.
In general, a company should keep quality improvement because the cost of quality is inestimable. Cost of quality is a method used by organizations to show the financial impact of quality activities. The focus should be on the cost of poor quality and its impact on the organization’s financial, competitiveness, customer retention and satisfaction, employee motivation. These investments keep product failure costs to a minimum. Eliminating defects before production begins reduces the costs of quality and can help companies increase profits. Prevention costs include process planning, review and analysis of quality audits and training employees to prevent future failure. There are 4 kinds of COQ:
- Internal Failure: Costs occur before the product is delivered to the customer
In this case, an international food safety experts concluded that the most likely source of the contamination was meat residue in the Bartor Road plant, which accumulated deep inside the slicing machines of two production lines in the processing plant. So Maple Leaf Foods Inc. must scrap all the products that had been affected.
- External Failure costs occur after the delivery of the product or while furnishing service to the customer
When this incident broke out, all products from the affected plant were recalled as soon as the presence of listeriosis was confirmed.
- Appraisal costs are costs associated with measuring, evaluating, or auditing products or services to ensure conformance to quality standards and performance requirements
In this case, Maple Leaf Foods Inc. confirmed if their product had listeriosis after they were notified. In addition, after they found out the root cause, they took a series of actions to improve the quality, such as doubling the number of testing sites and the frequency of sampling on all production lines of their RTE food plants and reconstructing some slicing equipment in order to help eliminate points of bacterial harbourage.
- Prevention costs are costs incurred in minimizing failure and appraisal costs throughout the entire organization processes.
In this case, after they found out the root cause, Maple Leaf Foods has implemented numerous improvements. The equipment sanitization process was completed in accordance with the recommended manufacturer’s cleaning protocols on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
In conclusion, by the end of September 2008 more than 20 people’s deaths had been linked to the listeriosis outbreak associated with Maple Leaf Foods. Many more fell ill. The Canadian press started to attack the company and a number of class-action lawsuits were launched on behalf of victims and their relatives. Consumers started to avoid Maple Leaf brands, and trade customers began switching to other suppliers. All of these will bring giant impact to Maple Leaf Foods Inc. The company has gotten a very bad reputation, which will make their customers very unsatisfied. And which will lead to this company loss business, loss market, can’t stay in this business due to the bad quality.
What should have been done to prevent the current situation?
There were several factors that caused the listeriosis outbreak in Maple Leaf Foods, including the corporation’s Listeria control measures are unsatisfactory, deficiencies in federal meat testing regulations, and slow recognition of the explosive outbreak.
To prevent the listeriosis outbreak, several points should be addressed (Government of Canada, 2009):
- Maple Leaf Foods should focus the food safety, and place a priority on controlling Listeria monocytogenes. The trend analysis required under Listeria controlling policy should be conducted routinely.
- The information concerning the repeated occurrences of Listeria in the plant should reach the office of the Chief Executive Officer.
- The information concerning the repeated occurrences of Listeria in the plant should be reported to the CFIA Inspectors.
- The CEO and senior management of all meat processors should accept responsibility for assuring that food safety are fully embedded in every level of their business.
- The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) should preserve third-party experts to conduct a resources audit to exactly evaluate the demand for its inspection resources and the number of inspectors required. The experts should also recommend required changes and implementation strategies.
- The CFIA should ensure that its inspectors receive timely education and training specific to each function they perform. The CFIA should equip its inspectors with modern technology to increase their inspection efficiency.
- Government and various governmental organizations should educate consumers, about the risks of foodborne listeriosis. Since sufficiently heating food will kill Listeria, the meat products should be heated before serving.
What was done to turn the situation around?
In June 2008, Toronto Public Health (TPH) noticed a minor increase in the number of reported listeriosis cases. In the middle of July, a listeriosis case was reported in a Toronto nursing home, and TPH increased their inspections. Food samples from the nursing home were sent to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) labs and a sandwich was found to be contaminated with Listeria on August 5. The positive food samples were reported to the CFIA, then on August 12, Maple Leaf Foods was informed by the CFIA for a formal inspection of their products. On August 14, CFIA officials met with public health officials and decided to stop serving certain meat products in hospitals and long-term care homes. On August 16, the CFIA and PHAC met and recommended a recall on certain Maple Leaf Foods products. On August 17, Maple Leaf announced a voluntary recall of the sure slice products from their Bartor Road plant. In the following week, the list of recalled products increases to 220 as the number of listeriosis cases and associated deaths continued to rise. At the same time, Maple Leaf Foods’ Bartor Road plant was shut down for cleaning and reevaluation of safety issues. On August 23, the PHAC announced that tests confirmed the link between the listeriosis outbreak to Maple Leaf Foods. On the next day, television advertisements begin showing Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain’s apologies on behalf of the corporation. The PHAC has been continually releasing updates on the number of confirmed and suspected cases. Maple Leaf Foods Bartor Road plant re-opened on September 14 (Government of Canada, 2009, Kitchlu, et al., 2013).
How did Mr. McCain manage this crisis?
Maple Leaf Foods’ response to the listeriosis crisis was immediate and highly efficiently. Corporation CEO Michael H. McCain apologized in television advertisements, in press conferences, in newspapers and on the corporate and worldwide website (Greenberg, 2009). He said that: “As you may know Listeria was found in some of our products even though Listeria is a bacteria commonly found in many foods and in the environment we work diligently to eliminate it. When listeria was discovered in the product, we launched immediate recalls to get it off the shelf, then we shut the plant down. Tragically our products have been linked to illnesses and loss of life. To Canadians who are ill and to the families who have lost loved ones, I offer my deepest sympathies. Words cannot begin to express our sadness for your pain. I believed foods are 23,000 people who live in a culture of food safety. We have an unwavering commitment to keeping your food safe with standards well beyond regulatory requirements. But this week, our best efforts failed and we are deeply sorry. This is the toughest situation we have faced in 100 years as a company. We know this has shaken your confidence in us; I commit to you that our actions are guided by putting your interests first.” (Maple Leaf Foods. (2008).
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Rather than denying guilty or transferring responsibility to other actors, Maple Leaf Foods accepted its guilt and search for forgiveness. They admitted that their standards of products had been breached, and this was not representative of the corporation’s business practice. McCain’s sincere apology became a means to bridge the legality gap caused by the listeriosis outbreak. McCain demonstrates that regardless of cost, ethical responsibility is the only frame to deal with the fault of food safety and public trust.
The serious consequences of the 2008 listeriosis outbreaks have alerted persons who work on the quality field to realize the importance of COQ. If a company didn’t concern about the quality improvement, the result will be exactly like what the Deming chain shows, the company could lose customers, then lose business and market, and finally in the uncompetitive situation. Consequently, various approaches such as COQ should be taken place to prevent an incident like this.
- 2008 Canada listeriosis outbreak, Retrieved October 18, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Canada_listeriosis_outbreak#cite_note-14.
- Bortolussi, R. (2008, October). Listeriosis: a primer, CMAJ, 179(8), 795-797. http://doi: 10.1503/cmaj.081377.
- Government of Canada (2009, July) Report of the Independent Investigator into the 2008 Listeriosis outbreak, Retrieved October 18, 2019.
- Greenberg, J., Elliott, C. (2009, June) A Cold Cut Crisis: Listeriosis, Maple Leaf Foods, and the Politics of Apology, Canadian Journal of Communication, 34(2) 189-204. https://doi.org/10.22230/cjc.2009v34n2a2204.
- Kitchlu, A., Li, A. (2013, June), Lessons from the listeriosis outbreak, UWO Medical Journal, 78(2), 29-31. Retrieved October 18, 2019, from http://www.uwomj.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/v78n2.29-31.pdf.
- Listeriosis, Retrieved October 18, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Listeriosis.
- Maple Leaf Foods, Retrieved October 18, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maple_Leaf_Foods.
- Maple Leaf Foods Inc. (2008) Annual Report, Retrieved October 18, 2019.
- Maple Leaf Foods. (2008 August). Message from Maple Leaf Foods regarding Listeria Recall, Retrieved October 18, 2019 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIsN5AkJ1AI.
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