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This article was published 11/6/2009 (4128 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
McCain, in Winnipeg Thursday speaking at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce event, was responding to a Toronto Star/CBC report that said Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspectors sometimes spent as little as 15 minutes a day at the plant.
McCain said more visual inspections would not have made a difference.
"What is very important to recognize about bacteria is that you cannot see it," McCain told reporters. "We wish you could visually inspect for bacteria, but it can't be seen with the eyes, tasted or touched."
The Toronto news story, which reported that as much as two-thirds of inspectors' time was taken up with administrative work, was the result of an analysis of time sheets obtained under access to information legislation.
Last month, the union representing inspectors called for more resources to be able to provide the level of inspection necessary for proper governance.
"We have had third-party advisers and CFIA officials inspect the record, the facilities, the procedures, the protocols, and not one expert I have spoken to has said that additional inspection would have prevented that infection," McCain said.
The head of the $5.2-billion-a-year Toronto-based food giant was adamant that more testing was the only effective way to address the issue and that Maple Leaf has doubled the number of tests being undertaken.
"The only technology that can detect for bacteria is microbiological testing in which you receive the results a few days later," he said. "And you interpret those results in a lab, not on the line."
In addition to the deaths, hundreds of other people became ill. Maple Leaf closed the plant and recalled tonnes of meat that had been shipped from the plant. McCain said recently the recall cost the company between $50 million and $60 million. The company also paid $27 million to settle claims with people who contracted listeriosis.
McCain said the business is recovering "one customer at a time."
He noted in his speech that the listeria crisis came amidst a spike in commodity prices and just before the collapse in the financial markets that was followed by the recession.
It also happened in the middle of the company's complex expansion of its fresh pork-processing operation in Manitoba.
In 2008, the company added a second shift to its Brandon kill and cut facility and invested $37 million in expanding its boning and ham production plant on Lagimodiere Boulevard in Winnipeg.
The company employs about 3,400 people in Manitoba which McCain said is about 1,900 more than it had here in 1995. He said the company is responsible for about $1.1 billion in direct and indirect benefits in the province annually.
"We have invested a half-billion dollars in Manitoba," he said. "I think you can safely say that infrastructure and foundation will attract further investment going forward. This (its Manitoba operations) is a centrepiece of our investment strategy."
Maple Leaf Foods and Manitoba
"ö 3,400 employees (1,400 in Winnipeg and 2,000 in Brandon)
"ö Brandon -- primary pork-processing facility for Western Canada
"ö Winnipeg -- processed-meats production including hams and smoked sausage as well as regional sales office
"ö Recent investments include $90 million to add a second shift at the Brandon plant, $14 million at a new feed mill in Souris, $2 million in odour-abatement technology and a $37-million expansion to its Lagimodière Boulevard facility.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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