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August 26, 2008

Meat Products Recalled

Recently there has been a large recall of all meat products produced by Maple Leaf Foods in its Toronto facility after Listeria bacteria was found on some of the products produced at that plant. A number of deaths across the country have resulted as a result of people eating meat products contaminated by Listeria.

Listeria monocytogenes
can be found in a variety of dairy products, vegetables, fish and meat products. The disease affects primarily older individuals, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems. A person with listeriosis may experience fever, muscle aches, and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. Deaths are uncommon, except in the very young, the very old, or people with weakened immune systems. People who believe they have experienced symptoms of illness are urged to contact their health care provider.

View full list of recalled products

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Listeria?

Listeriosis is a foodborne illness that occurs when a person consumes food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. This bacterium is often found in the environment, particularly in soil, vegetation, animal feed, and in human and animal feces. Although food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled, consumption of it may lead to the foodborne illness, often referred to as "food poisoning."

What are the symptoms of listeriosis?

A person with listeriosis, may experience the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe headache
  • Constipation
  • Persistent fever

Symptoms usually appear within 2 to 30 days and up to 70 days after consuming contaminated food.

In some instances for those most at risk, these symptoms may be followed by meningitis encephalitis (an infection of the brain or its surrounding tissues) and/or septicemia (blood poisoning), either of which can result in death.

Who is at risk for developing listeriosis?

Those who are highest at risk include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Newborns
  • The elderly
  • People with weakened immune systems

What should I do if I have these symptoms?

People who believe they have experienced symptoms of illness are urged to contact their health care provider.

What about pregnant women?

Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness, however a woman who develops listeriosis during the first three months of pregnancy may miscarry. If she develops listeriosis later in the pregnancy, her baby may be stillborn or acutely ill.

Is listeriosis fatal?

Deaths are uncommon, except in the very young, the very old, or people with weakened immune systems.

How does Listeria monocytogenes spread?

Listeria monocytogenes can be spread by contact with an infected product or surface, such as hands or counter tops, during food preparation. It is often found in the environment and unlike most other harmful bacteria, it can grow slowly on foods stored in a refrigerator.

Is there a link between these confirmed cases of listeriosis and the Maple Leaf Food products that were recalled?

Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have received laboratory results from Health Canada that establish a link between a subset of meat products recalled by Maple Leaf Foods from their plant in Toronto and an outbreak of listeriosis in four provinces. 

As of August 24, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Maple Leaf Consumer Foods has expanded the previous public warning issued on August 19, 2008 to include all products produced at the plant in question (Establishment 97B) on a precautionary basis. There are approximately 200 products included in this recall, most of which are retail products.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Maple Leaf Consumer Foods are warning the public not to serve or consume the ready-to-eat deli meat products on the list of affected products available on the CFIA Web site as these products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Furthermore, consumers are advised to look for the code '97B' on any products they have bought and to return those products or throw them out. This code can be found near the Best Before date on the package. If you are unable to find a code and are in doubt whether the product has been recalled, throw it out.

Is this the largest food recall in Canadian history?

No. Although the Maple Leaf Foods recall can be considered one of the largest in recent history, there have been recalls that have involved a larger volume of product and have involved greater risks to human health.

Where are Maple Leaf Foods meat products distributed and sold?

These products have been distributed nationally, primarily to food service institutions such as restaurants, hospitals and nursing homes. In addition, these products may also be sold at retail and deli counters across Canada.

How do I know if meat that I purchased at a retail or deli counter is part of the recall?

At these locations the original product identity and Best Before code may not be evident, consumers who may have a concern with their deli meat products are advised to check with their retailer to determine if the purchase contained the recalled products.

What should I do if I have some sliced meat and I am not sure if it is among the varieties affected by the recall?

If you are not sure if your meat is affected by the recall, don’t eat it. When in doubt, throw it out.

What is the difference between a confirmed case and a suspect case?

In this outbreak investigation, a confirmed case is an individual that has Listeria monocytogenes  with the same genetic DNA fingerprint  as the outbreak strain. In this outbreak investigation, a suspect case is an individual with Listeria monocytogenes and is awaiting DNA fingerprinting pattern results.

Is Maple Leaf Foods the only suspected source of the high rate of listeria cases at this point?   If not, what other sources are being investigated?

As part of the investigation, information is collected on all food and water consumed by individuals during the 30 days prior to onset of symptoms. Although laboratory results from Health Canada establish a link between meat products recalled by Maple Leaf Foods and an outbreak of listeriosis, the CFIA will continue to assess common food sources revealed through the public health investigations.

Who issues a recall of hazardous foods?

A recall can be issued by the CFIA, provincial or local Medical Officers of Health, or a company. A food recall is a method of removing food products that may represent a health hazard to the consumer.  It is an action taken most often by a manufacturer, distributor, or operator of food premises to protect the public's health.

Who is ensuring that the recalled products are removed from store shelves and from restaurants, hospitals and nursing homes?

The CFIA is monitoring the effectiveness of the Maple Leaf Foods recall.  CFIA and public health units across Canada are verifying that 100% of affected product is removed from high-risk institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes and day cares and all retail stores are checked through a normal verification process.  However, it is critical that retailers and distributors of Maple Leaf products take due diligence and remove affected products from their shelves and off their menus.

What could have caused the contamination in the Maple Leaf Foods products – was it a flaw in the food production? In the storage?

CFIA is currently investigating the potential causes of contaminated food products.  

How can I protect myself and my family?

First, carefully review the Maple Leaf Consumer Foods list of affected products available on the CFIA Web site as these products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Second, ensure you do not consume any Maple Leaf products with the code ‘97B’ as these products have all been recalled as a precautionary measure by Maple Leaf Foods. This code can be found near the Best Before date on the package. If you are unable to find a code and are in doubt whether the product has been recalled, throw it out.

Those individuals who are the most vulnerable (the very young, the elderly, those whose immune systems may be compromised or pregnant women) should avoid consumption of any risk products.

The Government of Canada also recommends taking the following precautions when buying storing, and preparing food:

  • Keep foods out of the temperature danger zone (between 4°C and 60°C or 40°F and 140°F). Keep the refrigerator at 4°C (40°F) or colder. Refrigerate food promptly.

  • Thoroughly cook or boil foods such as hot dogs and poultry products until they are steaming hot.

  • Avoid raw, unpasteurised milk or foods made from it such as raw milk cheese.

  • Purchase only as much product as will be consumed in 1 to 2 days.

  • Wash raw vegetables thoroughly before eating.

  • Wash hands before, during and after handling any type of food, especially raw meat and poultry.

  • Clean all utensils, cutting boards and work surfaces with a mild bleach solution (5 ml/1 tsp. bleach per 750 ml/3 cups water) before and after using.

  • Separate utensils for raw and cooked foods.

  • Follow "Best Before" dates especially on packaged goods with a long shelf life.

Are the problems with Maple Leaf Foods meat products an isolated incident ?

Yes. Based on testing to date, this is an isolated incident related to one facility. The operating and inspection records of this facility are being rigorously reviewed to determine if any deviations from established food safety procedures can be identified. Further testing of samples from the plant is being conducted to ensure all affected product is removed from distribution.

Sporadic detections of listeriosis associated with various food products are reported by the public health community on a regular basis.

Can I trust the safety of meat in Canada?

Canada has an internationally respected meat inspection program in place. To help ensure the safety of Canada's food supply, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regularly audits federally licensed meat establishments and works with industry to promote compliance with federal regulations. Food inspection programs administered by the CFIA confirm that establishments have taken the appropriate steps to produce safe food products. For more information on Listeria, please refer to this CFIA fact sheet.

Why has the "number of deaths where listeriosis was an underlying or contributing cause" been reduced from 6 to 5?

One of the deaths in that category has been reclassified as being "cause is undetermined" as the cause of death is being further investigated by one of Ontario's local public health units.

For More Information

Read the latest update from the Public Health Agency of Canada


- Source: Public Health Agency of Canada

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