ST.CATHARINES, Ont. - Hardly a day goes by that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency doesn't issue yet another food product recall.
Whether it is a health hazard or allergy alert, consumers are being bombarded with warnings against consuming salmonella-contaminated nuts, tampered luncheon meats or Stilton cheese containing Listeria, to name but a few recent examples.
What is behind all these dire food safety alarms?
''My intuition is not that we are seeing more recalls, but we're getting them on a larger scale,'' says Michael Armstrong, associate professor in the faculty of business at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., where he teaches quality management.
He explains that at one time if a farmer made some contaminated cheese that was sold in a local grocery store, only the area residents would get sick from it.
''Now we have a batch of contaminated nuts sent into a factory and they get mixed with other nuts,'' says Armstrong. From there they are sent out to many different manufacturers of processed foods before being delivered to a host of retailers.
''So we may have started with contaminated nuts, but through the supply chain the problem is spread across the entire country,'' he says.
Armstrong adds that it's not that industry doesn't have the technology to handle food contamination.
''It is more of a question of managing all this industrial-scale food production.''
''We need to make sure we have some industrial-scale quality and safety procedures in place. Retailers need to be able to know where their food products are coming from and to deal with reputable suppliers.''
A recent investigation in the U.S. showed that many food retailers didn't know the source of the products on their shelves, even where that was legally required, says Armstrong.
Another problem is for major supermarket companies who outsource their private label products to outside manufacturers.
''The other company making the private label products has to be responsible for the quality and safety of it,'' he says. ''But the supermarket chain also has to make sure that's happening so it should be conducting some audits and check-ups of its own.''