Listeria, Maple Leaf Foods, and the design of meat slicers

According to the, Maple Leaf’s CEO says likely source of listeria found:

“Listeria contamination deep within two meat slicing machines at a Toronto food-processing plant was the likely cause of the recent outbreak of the bacteria that has killed at least 13 people.

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. CEO Michael McCain said at a press conference in Toronto Friday evening that the Formax 180 slicers, on lines 8 and 9 of the company’s Toronto plant, were regularly cleaned but that listeria was found in parts of the machinery “well beyond the [manufacturer’s] recommended sanitation process.”

The slicers, which are about three metres long and two-and-a-half metres tall, have been completely disassembled, and Mr. McCain said that similar measures would be taken with all of the company’s slicing equipment.

He added that despite the discovery of listeria deep inside the machinery, “it’s not reasonable to expect that each piece of equipment has to be disassembled completely prior to use.””

I put the last part of the quote in bold, because I think that is relevant.

I went over to FORMAX site to see if I could get more information on the Formax 180. Given that there is no mention of the particular model on their site, I am assuming that a) it is an older model they no longer support b) it is similar to the newer models.

If I look at some of their new slicing models, like this one, I can see why the CEO of Maple Leaf would say it is “not reasonable to expect that each piece of equipment has to be disassembled completely prior to use”. They look like complex machinery. And I am assuming that complexity allows them to produce sliced meat at a very fast rate.

So, we have machines that are explicitly designed to be highly productive and implicitly designed to be hard to thoroughly clean.

My personal opinion is that I would like the machines to first and foremost be very easy to clean and then be highly productive.

In the meantime, I think I may cut back on my use of processed meat. I’ve already stopped using Maple Leaf Foods meats, but this is not likely a problem associated with just Maple Leaf Foods. I am assuming everyone in this business is using such machines, and all of them have the challenge of being able to clean them.

I also think Maple Leaf Foods and others need to rethink this problem, for their own sakes, as well as that of their customers.


5 responses to “Listeria, Maple Leaf Foods, and the design of meat slicers

  1. smartpeopleiknow

    Incidentally, most politicians announce bad news on Friday night. Is it just a coincidence that the CEO of Maple Leaf Foods did the same thing?

  2. Fortunately, I often don’t eat deli meats and when I do, I get them sliced right at the counter. Those small, slow rotary cutters at the supermarkets seem easier to clean. That’s not to say the staff won’t be negligent but the effort – if it is there – does not have to be significant.

  3. Emagine their is a product that is a wrap that could prevent this outbreak of listeria,and no one knows about it. it is called toxinalert.

  4. Glad that I ffound now this detailed information.
    As being since 25 years as in the slicing and packaging area I try to convince the designer of the problems of good cleaning

    • smartpeopleiknow

      That’s exactly right, Dieter: machines that slice and package should be designed for cleanliness and safety as much as they should be designed for speed. A fast car that blows up at high speeds is poorly designed. A fast slicer that cannot be cleaned easily is the same thing.