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One dead, 16 sick in possible tainted meat incident


August 21, 2008
– At least one person is dead and 16 others ill across Canada from a
bacterial infection that can be fatal to the infirm, the elderly and
unborn children – and could be linked to a massive, nationwide recall
of ready-to-eat meat products made by food giant Maple Leaf Foods.

August 21, 2008 – At least one person is dead and 16 others ill across Canada from a bacterial infection that can be fatal to the infirm, the elderly and unborn children – and could be linked to a massive, nationwide recall of ready-to-eat meat products made by food giant Maple Leaf Foods.

Health authorities in Ontario are dealing with 12 confirmed cases of listeriosis, a disease caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes – often found in soil, vegetation, animal feed and feces, and recently in certain processed meats produced by a Maple Leaf plant in Toronto.

Listeriosis was the "underlying cause of death" in the case of the one known fatality, said Dr. David Williams, Ontario's acting chief medical officer of health. Williams provided no specifics except to say the victim was from southern Ontario.

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The number of confirmed cases, which seem to consist primarily of nursing home residents, could grow as health units across the province continue to submit reports on the disease, he added.

"The pattern was people in certain long-term care facilities" across southern Ontario, Williams said. "The median age in the males is 76 and in the females is 80."

Nursing homes, deli counters and restaurants, including McDonald's and Mr. Sub, are among the establishments where the meat products – which include turkey, ham, corned beef and roast beef – were distributed.

Maple Leaf spokeswoman Linda Smith said the company is taking all the necessary precautions, including shutting down the plant, providing additional food safety training for employees and ensuring the public is aware of the situation.

"This is a company that has a culture of food safety," Smith said.

"We're taking appropriate, broad, comprehensive and definitive action as it relates to this facility. This involves people – we want people to understand there's a recall, we want people to have that information."

The recall is costing the company approximately $2 million, Smith added.

Williams said there are an additional 16 probable or suspected cases in the province.

"I strongly advise the public, especially those at high risk for listeriosis … to make sure they avoid consuming these products," he said in a statement.

"I have also asked all public health units to advise emergency rooms in their jurisdictions to be on alert for cases. All suspect and confirmed cases of listeriosis must be reported immediately to local public health units and in turn to the ministry within one business day of notification of report."

Consumption of food tainted with listeria can lead to high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea. The illness is a particular danger to pregnant women and their unborn children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease or AIDS.

Symptoms usually appear within two to 30 days, and up to 90 days after consuming contaminated food, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The average incubation period is about three weeks, says the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

The remaining four confirmed cases include two in B.C., one in Saskatchewan and one in Quebec. Health inspectors in all four provinces were working with Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to confirm the source of the outbreak.

Margaret Ringland, of the Ontario Association of Non-Profit Homes and Services for Seniors, which represents 180 non-profit homes in the province, said she's had no reports of suspicious deaths at the association's facilities.

"They would simply not use the meat; they would move into other foods, it's as simple as that," Ringland said.

"People aren't going to take a chance. The products they're talking about aren't ones that are a heavy part of menus in most of the homes. I haven't heard from anybody who has an issue over this."

CFIA spokesman Garfield Balsom said he couldn't say how long it would take to establish any possible links between Maple Leaf products and the bacteria.

"To predict when you're going to complete an investigation is practically impossible," he said. "With the tomato issue in the United States, it went on for three or four months."

Maple Leaf is recalling all products prepared at the plant since June 2 and shutting down the plant through the weekend for a comprehensive sanitization, Smith said.

Employees are also to receive additional food safety training, and the two production lines in question are to be dismantled, she added.

On Sunday, the meat packer said it had discovered listeria in Sure Slice roast beef and corned beef produced at the Toronto facility and issued a recall on those products.

Brand names for some of the recalled products include Schneiders, Sure Slice, Deli Gourmet and Burns Bites. A complete list of affected products is available on both the Maple Leaf Foods website (www.mapleleaf.com ) and that of the CFIA (www.inspection.gc.ca ).

The 23 products involved in the expanded recall carry an establishment number of 97B and have best-before dates up to and including Sept. 30 to Jan. 1, 2009.

Balsom said the CFIA first became aware of possible problems when it was notified of a listeriosis outbreak on Aug. 6 by a particular health unit; subsequent investigation led them to Maple Leaf's Toronto facility, he said.

McDonald's Canada said Wednesday it is temporarily removing its turkey BLT sandwich from its menu as a "precautionary measure" – the only item on the restaurant chain's menu that is affected.

"We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, but food safety and quality at McDonald's will not be compromised," the company said in a release.

"We are closely monitoring the situation and are taking guidance from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency."

The complete list of affected products, including individual product codes and best-before dates, is as follows:

26365, Sliced Cooked Turkey Breast, 470 grams, all best-before dates up to and including Sept. 30;

02106, Schneiders Bavarian Smokies, 1 kilogram, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 28;

02126, Schneiders Cheddar Smokies, 1 kilogram, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 28;

21333, Sure Slice Roast Beef, 1 kilogram, all best-before dates up to and including Sept. 30;

21388, Sure Slice Combo Pack, 1 kilogram, all best-before dates up to and including Sept. 30;

60243, Deli Gourmet Roast Beef slices, 1 kilogram, all best-before dates up to and including Sept. 30;

02356, Seasoned Cooked Roast Beef, 500 grams, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 7;

42706, Roast Beef, Seasoned and Cooked, 500 grams, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 7;

21334, Sure Slice Turkey Breast Roast, 1 kilogram, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 14;

21444, Sure Slice Corned Beef, 1 kilogram, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 14;

44938, Montreal Style Corned Beef, 500 grams, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 14;

21440, Sure Slice Black Forest Style Ham, 1 kilogram, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 21;

21447, Sure Slice Salami, 1 kilogram, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 21;

21331, Sure Slice Smoked Ham, 1 kilogram, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 21;

48019, Schneiders Deli Shaved Corned Beef, 200 grams, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 21;

48020, Schneiders Deli Shaved Smoked Meat, 200 grams, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 21;

48016, Schneiders Deli Shaved Smoked Ham , 200 grams, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 21;

48018, Schneiders Deli Shaved Smoked Turkey Breast, 150 grams, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 21;

48017, Schneiders Deli Shaved Fully Cooked Smoked Honey Ham, 200 grams, all best-before dates up to and including Oct. 21;

21360, Burns Bites Pepperoni, 500 grams, all best-before dates up to and including Jan. 1, 2009;

99158, Turkey Breast Roast, 1 kilogram, all best-before dates up to and including Sept. 30;

71330, Roast Beef Cooked, Seasoned, 2.5 kilograms, all best-before dates up to and including Sept. 30;

71331 Corned Beef, Smoked Meat, 2.5 kilograms, all best-before dates up to and including Sept. 30.

SOURCE: The Canadian Press