If Michael McCain had known last year what he knows today about the deadly listeria bacteria, 21 lives could have been saved, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods said yesterday.

“It’s blindingly clear that Maple Leaf was responsible for the loss of 21 lives,” McCain told the Toronto Star’s editorial board. “I felt that personally.”

While Maple Leaf conducted its own internal listeria tests prior to the outbreak, McCain said the company wasn’t rigorous enough about analyzing the results.

“We didn’t have a sense of what was high,” he said. “We should have ... We weren’t asking the government for more rigorous standards. We should have been.”

The Maple Leaf outbreak last August triggered a national scare and a public relations nightmare.

With two separate federal investigations into the outbreak underway, McCain is calling for tougher food regulations in Canada and coming clean about an industry-wide lack of scrutiny around the deadly pathogen.