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First Class Action Lawsuit Over Maple Leaf Listeria Outbreak

Aug 27, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Over 1,100 people have initiated a class action lawsuit against Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods in response to a growing Listeriosis outbreak associated with Maple Leaf’s Toronto meat plant.  To date, the meat contamination has resulted in 29 cases of Listeriosis, including 15 deaths, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The lawsuit involves people who have suffered illness, death, mental distress, or financial losses as a result of the tainted meat and recall; allegations have not yet been proven in court.  This past weekend, confirmation was announced that meat tainted with outbreak’s source.  Maple Leaf upgraded a precautionary recall of 23 of its products issued last week to all 220 of its packaged meats from the plant.  That second recall was issued Monday.

The attorney handling the case estimates that if the lawsuit is successful, the compensation could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Experts believe the massive recall is expected to cost Maple Leaf at least over $20 million dollars.  Since the recall announcements, Maple Leaf shares have lost one-quarter of their value.

Several other companies that use meat products from the Maple Leaf Foods plant have also voluntarily recalled or pulled some of their products including Atlantic Prepared Foods Ltd. which recalled its Irving, Sub Delicious, and Needs brand sandwiches; Metro Ontario Inc., which pulled some of its Fresh 2 Go sandwiches from A & P and Dominion stores; Lucerne Meats, which recalled some Mac's and Safeway sandwiches in Western Canada; and Royal Touch, which pulled its Shopsey's Reuben sandwiches. As for fast-food chains such as McDonald's and Mr. Sub, the only products about which the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (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.

Of the 15 deaths linked to this Listeriosis outbreak, the vast majority originated in Ontario; British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Quebec have each reported one death, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which also stated that the Listeria strain was the underlying or contributing factor in six of the 15 fatalities while the deaths of the other nine patients, who had the bacterium in their system, remain under investigation to determine the exact cause.  Another 30 medical cases, which have been reported in Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, are also being investigated for possible ties to the outbreak.

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 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 beef products; Listeria thrives in cold environments.

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