Food Safety

At Maple Leaf, our commitment to you is that we will do everything we can to make our products safe for you and your family. Just as we take precautions to ensure our products are safe, we encourage you to take precautions while preparing, cooking, and storing food which is your family’s best defense against foodborne illness.

Facts about Foodborne Illnesses

There are an estimated 11-13 million cases of foodborne illness in Canada every year. Food contaminated by bacteria, viruses and parasites can make you sick. Many people may have had foodborne illness, sometimes called food poisoning, and not even known it.

Here are five key areas that you can control to prevent foodborne illness in your home.

  • Refrigeration & storage
  • Personal hygiene/hand washing
  • Cross-contamination (cooked & uncooked food)
  • Food surfaces
  • Undercooked food and other temperature mistakes

Everyone is at risk of getting sick from improperly handled or cooked food but groups with increased risk include:

  • Young Children
  • Pregnant Women
  • Elderly people
  • Individuals who are already sick or with compromised immune systems

The symptoms of foodborne illness can often feel like the flu and may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms can start within hours after eating contaminated food or up to a month or more later depending on the type of foodborne bacteria. If you feel like you have eaten a product that may be contaminated, you should seek medical treatment:

Common Types of Foodborne Illness

Foodborne Bacteria Potential Source
Salmonella Campylobacter Poultry
Unpasteurized milk/daily
Raw produce
Listeria Raw milk
Soft cheese
Lunch meats/hot dogs
Raw produce
E. Coli Raw/undercooked meat
Raw produce
Unpasteurized milk


There are six different species of the bacterium Listeria. Only one of these species Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) causes human illness – the others are usually harmless for humans. Listeria can be found almost everywhere and has been isolated from a number of sources, including soil, water and foods. It has evolved the ability to survive in a variety of different environmental conditions, including moist environments like refrigerators, and under a variety of stress conditions.


Within L. monocytogenes, a multitude of different strains (e.g. more than 300 strains identified in one study) have been documented. Strains can be defined by a variety of methods, including a process known as pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) which gives different “genetic fingerprint” patterns.

Listeria and food

Listeria can be found in unprocessed food such as raw dairy products, meat, poultry, fish, as well as processed foods such as deli meats, hot dogs, cheese and ice-cream. It is sometimes found in raw vegetables. It can also be spread with an infected product or surface, such as hands or kitchen counters during food preparation.


This is the serious infection caused by eating food containing L. monocytogenes. Listeriosis usually occurs only in people with weakened immune systems (e.g. AIDS patients, organ transplant recipients, cancer patients), the elderly, pregnant women, and newborns.

The infection can begin with fever and gastrointestinal symptoms, but can spread to the blood stream and/or the nervous system giving symptoms of meningitis. In pregnant women, L. monocytogenes can also spread to the fetus, causing premature delivery, miscarriages or infections of the newborn baby.

Incubation Period

The incubation period can be as much as 70 days after exposure for the more serious forms of Listeriosis, however symptoms usually appear within two to 30 days. For the milder forms, it can be as little as one day.

Incidence Of Illness

The disease listeriosis is very rare, affecting an estimated 1-5 in 1,000,000 people per year in most developed countries. In people contracting the disease it can be very serious - an estimated 20% of people with this disease die due to listeriosis. Pregnant women are 20 times more likely to get listeriosis (as compared to healthy individuals), and account for about a third of all listeriosis cases. Persons with AIDS are about 850 times more likely to get listeriosis, as compared to healthy individuals.

Consumer Risk

Even if L. monocytogenes is absent in ready-to-eat meat and poultry products after processing, or found at very low prevalence and levels, additional contamination can occur after the packs are opened - especially when the meat is handled. Although L. monocytogenes can grow while refrigerated, growth is very slow at temperatures below 4ºC. In ready-to-eat foods stored at higher temperatures, for example above 7ºC, growth occurs more rapidly, increasing the risk that L. monocytogenes will reach levels more likely to cause human illness. Both safe food handling and maintaining proper refrigeration temperatures are critical to minimizing the risk of listeriosis.

Cooked Meat

Listeria is killed by cooking. Thoroughly cooking product to 165ºF/74ºC will kill the bacteria. Consumers at high risk for contracting listeriosis (e.g. pregnant women and the elderly) should reheat deli meats immediately before consumption.


Listeria is not killed by freezing. Growth is arrested altogether, but normal growth will be resumed after thawing.

Deli Plants

Listeria is everywhere, so elimination is out of the question. Listeria is expected to enter any meat plant with raw materials and personnel and once inside, it can live almost anywhere – on floors, drains, cooling, ventilation, slicing and packaging equipment. The strategy for the food industry remains one of risk mitigation driven by robust surveillance and sanitation programs. Regular cleaning and sanitation is needed to prevent growth and survival of this organism, including disassembly and deep cleaning in harbourage points of equipment, and contamination of the surfaces in contact with ready-to-eat meats.


Control of Listeria in a manufacturing plant is monitored by a program of regular swabbing and sampling from the plant “environment”. There are standard remedial procedures for immediately re-testing any sites that test positive for Listeria species, including supplementary cleaning protocols. Environmental testing is industry best practice to detect and manage Listeria in a food processing plant. It is more informative than finished product testing, as it points to the source as a target for further sanitation.

What Is E. Coli?

E. coli bacteria are found naturally in the intestines of animals such as cattle and poultry, as well other animals. E. coli can be acquired by eating contaminated food. The bacteria live in the intestines of some healthy cattle and contaminate the meat.

Eating meat that is not properly cooked is the most common way of getting the infection. Person-to-person transmission can occur if infected people do not wash their hands before and after handling raw foods. If someone becomes infected with E.coli they can become seriously ill.

What Are The Symptoms Of An E. Coli Infection?

Symptoms can appear within hours and up to 10 days after consuming the bacteria. The most common symptoms include severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea (hemorrhagic colitis). The majority of people recover within 7 to 10 days. Some people infected with the bacteria may not experience symptoms, but can still carry the bacteria and spread the infection to others. If you think you are infected with E. coli, you should not prepare food for other people as people who are infected with E. coli are very contagious.

Who Is Most At Risk?

Everyone is susceptible to E. coli infection; however, the elderly, infants, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk for developing serious complications.

How Can I Lower My Risk Of Exposure To E. Coli Bacteria?

You can avoid becoming infected with E. coli by taking proper precautions in preparing and handling food. Do not eat food that isn’t properly cooked.

Click here for safe food handling tips

What Is Salmonella?

Salmonella bacteria are found naturally in the intestines of animals, especially poultry and swine. Salmonella bacteria can also be found in the environment.

When people consume food that is contaminated with Salmonella, they can become ill with salmonellosis—often referred to as Salmonella poisoning. Salmonella is usually contracted from foods such as undercooked chicken, eggs, and pork, but can also be consumed from unpasteurized dairy products and raw fruits and vegetables.

Food can become contaminated with Salmonella during the slaughter and processing of an animal or when food is handled by a person infected with Salmonella or from cross-contamination due to un-safe food handling practices.

What Are The Symptoms Of Salmonellosis?

The most common symptoms of salmonellosis are diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and abdominal cramps, which usually appear 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food and may last up to seven days. In more serious cases, the infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream or one may experience chronic symptoms, such as reactive arthritis three to four weeks later. Some people infected with the bacteria may not experience symptoms, but can still carry the bacteria and spread the infection to others.

Who Is Most At Risk?

The elderly, infants, and those with compromised immune systems are most likely to experience severe symptoms and illness.

How Can I Lower My Risk Of Contracting Salmonella?

One can avoid becoming ill with salmonellosis by taking proper precautions in preparing and handling food.

Click here for safe food handling tips