Maple Leaf Foods Dinner - Yes, I Lived to Blog About ItSaturday, June 05, 2010
Early in April, I received a cordial invitation from the lovely Program Coordinator Sumaya of Matchstick, a word of mouth marketing company based here in good ol' Toronto. In said invitation, she stated that Matchstick had partnered up with Maple Leaf Foods to organize an exclusive roundtable dinner event for 25 influential female bloggers in the GTA. I was extremely flattered to be considered an "influential" blogger and so my initial response was, "Yes!" (I later discovered quite happily that they had also extended the invitation to a few male bloggers who are part of the influential daddy blogger scene. More on that below.)
I was also asked to refer any other mom bloggers who may be interested in attending and I was excited to invite some of the amazing ladies I had met on my CN Tower tour last March Break. They seemed just as eager as I was until I received a DM from a fellow blogger after mentioning what would be on the menu - Maple Leaf products, of course. She said, "It makes sense. They'd love us all to eat it and live to tell about it." That got me thinking. Was I going to be used as a pawn in the proverbial game of chess? I mean, I know that they have made their Maple Leaf Pledge to be a global leader in food safety and I was not at all concerned about listeria. I was, however, feeling a bit anxious as to what my role would be in the end.
As much as I wish I had done some research and better prepared myself with some thought-provoking questions, I am kind of glad I didn't have any majorly media-influenced or pre-conceived notions on Maple Leaf's initiatives. Just like James, author of Doodad Blog, I went wearing many hats. I went in as a wife who reads news headlines and often relies on her husband for the rest of the facts. I went in as a teacher eager to learn something new. I went in as a blogger hoping to make new connections. I went in as a former deli clerk for a popular supermarket chain and having sampled a lot of Maple Leaf foods when I was an impressionable teenager. But most importantly, I went in as a mother of two young children who've been exposed to a mainly organic and natural diet. I didn't think learning about the Maple Leaf Pledge would be terribly relevant to my family's way of life. But I frantically jotted down notes and recorded some facts, making me feel like I was back in my first year of university. So I listened to Maple Leaf President and CEO Michael McCain stake claim to the ill-fated results of the outbreak of 2008. I listened to him speak quite eloquently on his company's efforts to drastically reduce the probability of another Listeriosis breakout. And I listened to him take on some very difficult questions posed by fellow bloggers.
We also sat through a presentation given by Sharon Beals, Senior Vice-President of Food Safety and Quality Assurance at Maple Leaf. She spoke about the technical aspect of the spread of bacteria and what we, as the consumer, can do to stop the spread in our home, stating that 100% of all food plants, grocery stores and home kitchens in the world will have listeria in them. She talked about their plants sanitizing equipment for 4-6 hours daily, the 1-on-1 line meetings and pro-active training of their employees, root-cause analysis, global auditory programs and 8:30 am test calls with other members of the executive. She also mentioned the impressive number of close to 125 000 listeria tests taken in their food processing plants in 2009 alone. Sounds worthy of applause, doesn't it?
Now, while I appreciate being treated to a tasty dinner in their Think Food headquarters prepared by their Director of Culinary Excellence John Placko, I felt a little uneasy about how I would share my thoughts with my readers here on my blog. I didn't want to come across as being "influenced" in any way by the great swag we received as a parting gift. I mean, who doesn't love free stuff? I was even given an additional thermal tote filled with Dempster's Oven Fresh partially baked preservative free baguettes, a Maple Leaf apron, pen, meat thermometer and about $20 worth of coupons to give away to one of my readers. But there were a couple of things that came up during our roundless table discussion and it wasn't until I read James' post that I felt inspired to right my own. He brought up a lot of valid points and questions that I wish I could have written as well as he did. Instead, I will attempt to sum up my thoughts below.
- I appreciate that Maple Leaf Foods is a Canadian company run by a man with children of his own and a passion for what he does. May he and his employees continue to commit to their pledge to be global leaders in food safety.
- I appreciate that company executives can find the time after a busy day of implementing best practices to teach us about food safety and how to properly calibrate a thermometer.
- I especially love their efforts to provide healthier alternatives such as their nitrate and nitrite free Natural Selections deli meats.
On a different note,
- I hope that Maple Leaf Foods can live up to the slogan on their company business cards: "Passionate people; passionate about food." I
encouragechallenge Mr. McCain's endorsement of finding the proper "balance" of healthy and not-so-healthy foods for the sake of providing a variety of foods to his customers. Lacking expertise in nutrition? Seek it out.
- I hope that they can go above and beyond what is expected of them in terms of regaining customer loyalty by pledging to set and meet high standards in the area of food safety. Why not jump on the band wagon with other large and influential corporations who are making efforts to be more environmentally friendly, support sustainable agriculture and re-evaluate the use of potentially toxic packaging? Green is the new black.
- I hope that by "breaking bread" with Maple Leaf Foods executives and all the fantastic bloggers in attendance, that we may collectively share our comments, questions and concerns effectively enough to affect change in a positive way. We have a responsibility to ourselves, to our children and to the future.
Thank you to Matchstick and Maple Leaf Foods for allowing me the opportunity to take part in this event and for the lovely parting gifts. Photos from the event have been provided courtesy of Matchstick.