A sharply worded editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Wednesday takes Canada’s public and private sectors to task for not doing enough to prevent foodborne illnesses.
The editorial, “Food in Canada: Eat at your own risk,” calls the annual 11 million or more episodes of food-related illnesses in Canada a “crude estimate” because likely fewer than one in 200 illnesses are reported.
It says the country’s “lackluster effort” at detecting, controlling and reporting food-caused infections is made worse because when contaminations are confirmed “we are unable to trace the origins of the contamination along the food chain.”
In a recent world evaluation of food safety in 17 countries, Canada was placed in the middle for its efforts in controlling some foodborne pathogens, but ranked near the bottom on traceability, the editorial notes.
In 2008, Canada was rocked by a lethal outbreak of listeriosis, which claimed the lives of 22 and sickened dozens, and was linked to cured deli meats. An independent investigation of that outbreak, the Weatherill inquiry, made 57 recommendations for food-safety improvement but the editorial writers characterize those as focusing too much on “improving government processes.”
“We now have more inspectors, but we still depend on company insiders overseeing inspections with no uniform national standards or process benchmarks,” the authors say.
What’s needed, the editorial suggests, are “more active forms of surveillance using common high standards for sampling foods throughout the food chain, for laboratory processing, for rapid removal of foods not meeting the standards and for reporting of laboratory results to the public.”
“Private and public oversight of food safety should be reformed to ensure sufficiently uniform practices across the country so that we can make comparisons among different regions, suppliers and types of food,” the editorial concludes. “Food will never be sterile and risk-free. However, without changes, many people will be harmed and some will die because of preventable contamination.”