Health and Safety
Editor’s Letter: July 2010
By Brian Hartz
Canada is quietly making strides toward safeguarding its food supply
chain – and Canadian bakeries and allied trades are a key part of the
Canada is quietly making strides toward safeguarding its food supply chain – and Canadian bakeries and allied trades are a key part of the solution.
In mid-May, buried under the fervour of hockey playoffs and TV series finales, came an announcement that the federal government would, according to the Canadian Press, spend $2 million on the West Hawk Lake Zoning Initiative, a facility near the Manitoba-Ontario border that “will monitor the movement of animals and agricultural products between Eastern and Western Canada.”
Then came the news that Ontario-based chemical manufacturer L.V. Lomas, a major supplier to the baking industry, had achieved Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) certification. Last year, London, Ont.-based gluten-free cookie and biscotti maker Touché Bakery was granted the same certification – becoming Canada’s first bakery to do so.
HACCP, if you’re not already aware, is one of the world’ strictest food-safety systems. Unlike finished-product inspection, it aims to prevent chemical, biological and physical threats to food manufacturing, and thus protect public health. Without going overboard on the details, suffice it to say it’s a certification that’s difficult to achieve and even harder to implement and track, requiring a thorough analysis of hazards, diligent monitoring, establishment of corrective actions, and transparent record keeping and traceability at all stages – or critical control points – of the food-production process.
If all of these steps sound expensive, well, they are. Food manufacturers spend millions of dollars on new equipment and systems that will help their plants meet HACCP standards. But the financial outlay doesn’t stop there – the facility’s daily routines have to change, staff need to be retrained, new suppliers must be contracted, additional personnel might need to be hired . . . you can see where I’m going with this.
Bakeries and other food manufacturers are bending over backward, against their own financial interests, to ensure the products leaving their plants are as consistently safe as is humanly possible. Yet, outside trade publications such as Bakers Journal, you wouldn’t know the industry is making any effort whatsoever to protect consumers from contaminated food. In fact, in late March the Ottawa Citizen, in an editorial titled “Food Safety Under Microscope,” bemoaned the fact that the federal government, in the wake of the deadly Maple Leaf listeriosis outbreak in 2008, had been too slow in hiring 70 additional food inspectors, leaving food companies with “too much responsibility for policing themselves.”
Perhaps there’s some truth to that, but what the editorial fails to recognize is how food makers have embraced that responsibility – to the tune of millions of dollars out of pocket. The Citizen’s arbiters of opinion seem to think responsible business practices get thrown out the window when bureaucrats aren’t snooping around trying to turn up dirt. I challenge them to pay a visit to Touché Bakery (as I did last year) or any of the other HACCP-certified food makers in this country and see for themselves the tremendous investment in food safety taking place in this country.
A report published in early 2010 by the Produce Safety Project (PSP) estimates acute food-borne illnesses cost the United States $152 billion per year in health care, lost time in the workplace and other economic measures. North of the border, of course, such losses would be lower, mainly due to the vast difference in population size and gross domestic product. But as more and more Canadian companies step up to take responsibility for the safety of their products and, by extension, the health of the nation’s people and economy, detractors can’t say the food industry isn’t doing its part.
In fact, it’s taking on significant financial risk, all for the sake of a safe food supply – and that’s an investment that’s bound to pay off.