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Canadian Listeriosis Cases Rising; More Feared

Aug 22, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

An investigation has revealed that the Canadian who fell ill from Listeria monocytogenes was infected with the same strain that killed one person and left several others across Canada ill.  "We cannot confirm that the infection was the result of eating the recalled meat," Marie-Claude Gagnon, spokesperson for the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services, said yesterday. "We can't demonstrate a clear link, but many strains of listeria exist and it was the exact same one."  Maple Leaf Foods Inc. recently issued a recall of a variety of its meats believed to be tainted with the Listeria bacteria, has temporarily closed its Toronto plant, and has initiated sanitation procedures there.  Maple Leaf Foods is Canada’s largest food processor.

Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, David Williams, said yesterday that he expected more listeriosis cases to be reported, but would not confirm how many deaths are under investigation, saying the cases may still be classified as "probable or suspect."  Williams said, "Right now, we only have one death that is confirmed to meet the criteria and in the physician's perspective was the underlying cause of death.  I am expecting more (listeriosis) cases to be reported."

The death was of an elderly person in Hamilton, Ontario, whose identity was not released.  That province confirmed three other Toronto-area deaths are being investigated where listeria may have been a contributing factor.  Authorities are looking into 38 suspected listeriosis cases, said Williams.  The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) says it could take weeks to confirm if there is a connection between the outbreak and tainted meat products from the Maple Leaf Foods processing plant involved in the massive recall.

Small traces of Listeria monocytogenes were discovered in some of the 23 varieties of deli meats recalled by Maple Leaf Foods.  The CFIA is still investigating the case to determine if that strain is linked to the fatal outbreak that sickened at least 17 other people this year.  "We're going to try to identify the strain that is making people sick," the CFIA's Garfield Balsom said. "How exactly long that will take is very hard to tell right now."  Brian Evans, executive vice-president of CFIA said it may have answers by tomorrow.  "We don't close the door on any ... possibilities," he said.

In the meantime, the CFIA is advising consumers to discard any recalled meat immediately instead of returning the product to where it was bought and to speak to the store of origin if meat was purchased at a deli counter and there is no labeling to indicate the brand and best-before date in order to determine if the product was included in the recall.  As for fast-food chains such as McDonald's and Mr. Sub, the only products about which the CFIA is concerned are sliced turkey breast used on the turkey BLT at McDonald's.  McDonald’s has temporarily removed the item from its menu.  Also of concern is seasoned cooked roast beef used in Mr. Sub sandwich shops; Mr. Sub has also pulled the affected product from its locations.

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