'Blood on the floor:' New Brunswick auditor warns of unsafe food practices

Find that the Department of Health has processes to monitor and enforce policies to ensure the safety of meat for public consumption, but they are not consistently followed

New Brunswick's auditor general conjured up the gory scene of hanging meat carcasses dripping blood next to ready-to-eat bologna and pepperoni, as she called for stronger measures to reduce the risk of food poisoning.

Kim MacPherson said unsafe food practices are a factor in food poisoning of an estimated four million Canadians each year, and cited the 2014 death of an 87-year-old woman who ate turkey at a community dinner in Nackawic, N.B.

She showed pictures to illustrate violations uncovered by her auditors as she released her annual report Tuesday.

In one case, auditors examined an abattoir that had no processing licence, where hanging carcasses were stored near spaghetti sauces as well as the ready-to-eat meat, she said.

In other cases, she said six of the nine inspectors they observed did not record all violations.

"The bloody and damaged packaging on the shelf, the blood on the floor, a risk of contamination, meat being stored directly on the metal shelves, and storage directly on the floor. These are examples of violations that were not recorded,'' the auditor general said.

Her office found the Department of Health has processes to monitor and enforce policies to ensure the safety of meat for public consumption, but they are not consistently followed.

"We found that there are unaddressed food safety risks that exist in New Brunswick. Stronger enforcement action is needed for operators who fail to comply, and the current manual inspection system has limitations for capturing inspection results,'' she told members of the legislature Tuesday.

MacPherson said 97% of the meat sold in New Brunswick comes from outside the province, and is inspected before it is imported. However she said the other three per cent, which is slaughtered within New Brunswick, does not get an inspection.

"The department staff told us that they believe that most people assume all meat sold in New Brunswick is inspected and we also believed this. However, we found that meat slaughtered in New Brunswick is not inspected prior to consumption,'' she said.

"Here in New Brunswick, the slaughter facility is inspected, with checks of the building, ventilation, temperatures and cleaning practices, however the slaughter process, not the meat itself, is inspected.''

Health Minister Victor Boudreau said his department will review MacPherson's recommendations and try to implement them all.

"I think there are protocols that need to be followed, and for whatever reason, maybe they weren't followed as closely as they needed to be,'' he said. "We are going to work with our inspectors to make sure they have the adequate training, that they have the adequate resources and that the protocols that are in place are followed ... to make sure this issue gets the attention it deserves,'' he said.

MacPherson also raised concerns about meals served at community suppers.

"Given the risk involved in food preparation at community suppers, and given the fact that a fatality has occurred in recent years in New Brunswick, we are concerned with the unaddressed food safety risks that remain, given that these events are not subject to licencing,'' she said.

In the December, 2014, death of the 87-year-old woman, an investigation found two kinds of bacteria in the turkey. About 30 people became sick.

Still, both MacPherson and Boudreau said they'll continue to eat at community suppers and are confident the people operating the fundraisers are serious about food safety.

Boudreau said community suppers come under a different regulation, but his department will look at it.

MacPherson said penalties for operators who fail to comply with the standards are minimal, and she wants serious consequences for operators, such as butcher shops, grocery stores or restaurants, who repeatedly have their licence revoked.

She also wants all inspection reports posted on the department's website.

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