Health authorities link 12 deaths to contaminated meat
JorMeagan Fitzpatrick and Jorge Barrera, Canwest News Service
Published: Monday, August 25, 2008

Employees of Maple Leaf meats clean machinery at it's Bartor Road location, Thursday August 21, 2008. Meat which came from the plant was found to part of a listeriosis outbreak.Peter J. Thompson/National PostEmployees of Maple Leaf meats clean machinery at it's Bartor Road location, Thursday August 21, 2008. Meat which came from the plant was found to part of a listeriosis outbreak.

OTTAWA -- Twelve deaths in Canada have now been linked to listeriosis, according to federal health officials who said Monday the deaths are among 26 confirmed cases of an outbreak across the country stemming from contaminated meat.

Eleven deaths were in Ontario and one was in British Columbia, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed at a news conference. In six of the Ontario deaths, the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes is being called an underlying or contributing factor to the death while the other five are still under investigation to determine what role it played.

"The one in B.C. is still a little bit controversial but it's considered having contributed to the death," said Dr. Mark Raizenne, director-general of PHAC's centre for food-borne, environmental and zoonotic infectious diseases (Zoonotic diseases can be transmitted between or shared by animals and humans.)

On top of the 26 confirmed cases, a further 29 cases of listeriosis have been identified and are being investigated to see whether they are linked to the current outbreak that is being blamed on meat from a Maple Leaf Foods processing plant in Toronto.

The plant will remain closed today and a massive Canada-wide product recall is ongoing that is expected to cost Maple Leaf more than $20 million and is prompting retailers across the country to empty their shelves of more than 200 Maple Leaf products, manufactured under a number of brand names.

Health officials said Monday they have changed the way they count the number of people affected by the bacterium strain to include anybody who had it in their body at the time of death, whether it caused the death or not.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told the news conference in Ottawa that the investigation into the outbreak is continuing and will likely bring even higher numbers over the coming days.

"We fully expect that both the numbers of suspected cases and confirmed cases will increase as this investigation continues and samples continue to be tested," Ritz said.

"It is important that all retailers and distributors of Maple Leaf products use due diligence and remove affected products from their shelves and from their menus," he said. "Iremind the public that if in doubt about any ready-to-eat meat it's best it throw it out."

The very young, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk of contracting the illness.

Following the Maple Leaf Foods expanded recall on Saturday, a Calgary-based manufacturer of ready-made sandwiches recalled several products on Monday over concerns they could contain contaminated luncheon meats processed by Maple Leaf.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Lucerne Foods is warning the public against eating Safeway and TakeAwayCafe brand sandwiches, distributed in Alberta and Saskatchewan, because they contain "various ready-to-eat deli meat products recalled by Maple Leaf Consumer Foods."

There have been no reported illnesses connected with the sandwiches now being recalled by Lucerne Foods, the agency said. The sandwiches were distributed to Alberta and Saskatchewan Safeway stores, while the TakeAwayCafe sandwiches were distributed at Mac's convenience stores in Alberta.

Monday's sandwich recall comes on the heels of another one during the weekend, in which the food inspection agency and Royal Touch Foods warned consumers not to eat the Shopsy's deli-fresh Classic Reuben sandwich because it could be contaminated with listeria. The sandwiches, containing sliced corned beef from Maple Leaf, were sold in a limited number of Toronto outlets, most of them Shoppers Drug Mart stores.

Meanwhile, Maple Leaf Foods has brought in a team of experts from the United States and elsewhere, company spokeswoman Linda Smith said Monday, to help get it back up and running.

"We are reviewing protocols and the changes in protocol that we will open the facility under," she said.

Smith also called the news of more deaths "tragic."

"Clearly loss of life and illness are tragic and devastating circumstances and any increase in that only escalates that tragedy," said Smith.

The company is working towards re-opening on Thursday but it will still be some time before meat processed at the plant will start being distributed again to customers across Canada.

‘‘The time frame really isn't theirs, it belongs more to CFIAand other inspection agencies," said Ritz. "There will be a number of products run through the line, all of them, 100 per cent of them will be held and tested until we make sure and ascertain that there's absolutely nothing coming off of there other than good quality food."

CFIA officials explained that a "hold and test"approach involves taking samples from products and waiting for test results before the meat will be allowed to leave the plant. The onus will be on the company to show they are consistently producing bacteria-free products before operations will be completely back to normal.

"Once the CFIAis confident that the product is safe, then they can be allowed to distribute," said Garfield Balsom, of the CFIA.

Symptoms of listeriosis are often flu-like and can include nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, high fever, severe headache and neck stiffness.

Of the 29 suspected cases now under investigation, four are in Alberta, two in Saskatchewan, 13 in Ontario and 10 in Quebec.

The Safeway brand Gold Standard sandwiches recalled Monday include:

• Lumberjack (Whole)

• Lumberjack (Half)

• Lumberjack (Quarter)

• Ciabatta club

• Beef and blue cheese focaccia

• Italian focaccia

• Italian hoagie

• Traditional hoagie

• Basic sub

• Black Forest ham and Swiss cheese

• Roast beef and cheddar

• Turkey and havarti

The recalled TakeAwayCafe brand Mac's sandwiches include:

• Roast beef submarine

• Pizza submarine

• Our super submarine

• Chicken club sub

• Hoagie sub with sausage

• Sirloin pepperjack (small)

• Sirloin pepperjack (large)

• Monterey Jack chicken (small)

• Monterey Jack chicken (large)

• Meat lover's (small)

• Meat lover's (large)

• Ham and cheese

• Sirloin kaiser

• Chicken kaiser

• Chicken wrap

A complete list of recalled products is available at: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/corpaffr/recarapp/2008/list97be.shtml

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