Food Related Illnesses in Canada

Professor Rick Holley, a food-safety expert at the University of Manitoba, critisizes the inability of the federal government to track foods that lead to food-born illnesses:

… in the wake of the deadly outbreak of listeria linked to ready-to-eat meats, he said Canada is ill-equipped to track food-related illnesses. The country lacks the surveillance systems that could lead to better detection of food-borne illnesses, he said, raising questions about whether health authorities are doing all they can to prevent sickness and death.

“We are hamstrung in our inability to identify risk,” he said in an interview. “If we can’t identify the risk, we can’t manage it. And if we can’t manage it, we have no control over what’s happening in terms of food-borne illness.”


Prof. Holley said Canadian officials will be just as unprepared for the next food-borne illness because they are not collecting information on what foods are most likely to make consumers sick.

This is in stark contrast to the United States, which takes a much more active approach to addressing food safety. Through a federal program called FoodNet, the U.S. monitors trends in specific food-borne illnesses, a process that involves tracking the health of 15 per cent of the population, or 45 million people. The program, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, allows health officials to collect data on what foods are making a certain percentage of the population sick every year.

Inspectors at the FDA recently traced a salmonella outbreak that left 1,437 people across the United States and five in Canada sick to a pepper farm in Mexico. In a report released this week, the CDC said jalapeno peppers were a major source of contamination and that tomatoes were a possible source.

Prof. Holley said there is nothing comparable to the FoodNet system in Canada.

“We really can’t get the overall picture,” he said. “We can’t focus on where there is a need for attention.”

The whole article is at the Globe and Mail

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