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Canadian Listeria Death Toll Rises to 12; Many More Feared

Aug 26, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP In Canada, the death toll from listeriosis has risen to 12 and there are also another 26 confirmed cases of food poisoning linked to deli meats produced at a plant owned by Maple Leaf Foods Inc.  Officials are saying that there are also another 29 suspected cases of listeriosis and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the government expected more cases in the near future. Five other people who died and were tested had the E. coli bacteria in their system, but the causes of their deaths are still under investigation, said Canadian Food Inspection Agency spokesman Mark Raizenne.

Maple Leaf Foods is one of Canada's largest meat processors and has reported that it hopes to reopen its Toronto plant today.  That plant is linked to the E. coli outbreak and has been closed for testing and massive sanitization since it recalled about 220 products made at that plant.  That recall is one of the largest food recalls to occur in Canada.  Health officials said they will test and hold all meat produced at the Toronto plan until they are satisfied it is not contaminated.  "The timeframe really isn't theirs. It belongs more to the (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)," Ritz said.  Direct costs to Maple Leaf, as a result of the outbreak and recall, currently total about C$20 million ($19 million US dollars). Chief Financial Officer Michael Vels said that reimbursing customers for returned products, cleaning the plant, and other direct expenses will cost the company C$20 million before taxes,

A listeria bacterium with the same genetic fingerprint as that which was found in those who were sickened was found in two beef products made at Maple Leaf’s Toronto plant.  Maple Leaf said it's unlikely it will be able to determine how its meat was contaminated.  "It's very, very, very difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint a cause," Vels told analysts on Monday before the latest health announcement.  "I don't know how important that is to consumers.  I think our perspective is what's more important is we let them know what's going on and we take swift and conservative action to safeguard their health," Vels said.

Meanwhile, three more ready-made sandwich brands were added yesterday.  The products were sold in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia and contain some of the meat products from the Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto already recalled, the CFIA said.  This is in addition to the recent recall of 23 products that was upgraded to all 220 packaged meats from the plant.

Listeriosis is a type of food poisoning generated by the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria and is dangerous to the elderly, pregnant women, newborns, those with chronic medical conditions, people with HIV, or those who are undergoing chemotherapy.  Most people experience mild flu-like symptoms—fever, muscle aches, nausea, or diarrhea.  In serious cases, the disease spreads to the nervous system, causing headaches, stiff neck, and convulsions.  In very severe cases, death can occur.  In pregnant women, Listeriosis can result in miscarriage or stillbirth.  Listeria lives in soil, stream water, sewage, plants, and food and can easily contaminate dairy and meat products; Listeria thrives in cold environments.

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