Canadian retailers make food safety key priority
By Cynthia David, www.thepacker.com
(Nov. 5, 4:23 p.m.) Since no company wants to see their name in the media associated
with a foodborne illness, the race is on to safeguard all aspects of the food chain,
from the field to the consumer.
"Today's educated consumers don't just want to know what they're buying," said
Christian Chouinard, Loblaws director of product development for Canada, "they want
to know where it comes from and every ingredient in it."
As a result, he said, grocery chains must become specialists, researching how each
producer grows the product they buy and how to take the extra care required to keep
"At Loblaws, I'm the guy in Florida in winter looking at the fields," said
Chouinard, who's based in Montreal. "In summer, I'm based here to check out all the
Quebec growers in terms of food safety, quality and quantity. In the future, I'll be
involved in Ontario as well, checking every facet of every grower's operation."
At Stellarton, Nova Scotia- based Sobeys Inc., whose IGA banner is the province's
largest, traceability has become a watchword for all produce managers.
"We work with our national team and our HACCP department," said Pat Calabretta,
senior director of merchandising and purchasing for Sobeys Quebec. "You're liable
for what you sell, and we're liable if something happens in our stores. Though most
of us grew up eating fruits and vegetables and nobody died, today we've got to take
At Essex Continental in Montreal's Marche Central, food safety has been the No. 1
priority for the past three years, said general manager Frank Ferrarelli.
"We test everything before it goes out," he said, "and each cup contains the
julienne date, farm and room number so we can trace every mushroom."
Sliced mushrooms are particularly susceptible to listeria, said Ferrarelli. The
outer skin of a whole mushroom protects against the bacteria, he said, but once a
mushroom is sliced that protection disappears. To be sure its equipment is pristine,
the company soaks its slicer in boiling water for 30 minutes daily.
If any traces of listeria are found during testing, he said, the line is stopped
"If it happens to us it might affect 300 to 400 cases from one day's production," he
said. "We wouldn't wait for a second test, which could take six days, to tell us how
many parts per million are present."
While food safety hasn't changed the way Montreal's biggest wholesaler, Canadawide
Fruit Wholesalers Inc., does business, president George Pitsikoulis said the company
is in the process of upgrading its computer system to enable it to track every lot
of produce it handles. "We'll be ready to offer full traceability by November," he
Montreal's foodservice distributors also are tackling the issue of food safety, said
Benoit Lecavalier, sales manager for Hector Larivee. The company imports much of its
U.S. produce through Pro-Act, a co-operative of North American produce specialists.
The group has devised its own recall system, Lecavalier said, and members share
ideas regularly on ongoing issues concerning bacteria and traceability.
Lecavalier added that Larivee's sister company, Tomapure in Laval, Quebec, offers
facilities designed with food safety in mind. It washes and packs vegetables for
foodservice, including tomatoes for the Subway sandwich chain.
"We need to be able to give our customers full assurance that we deal only with
approved suppliers and that we can trace back any product," Lecavalier said.