Canadian death toll from contaminated meat goes up

Canadian death toll from contaminated meat goes up

On Monday, the Canadian health authorities revised from 4 to 12 the number of deaths from listeriosis that have been linked to contaminated cold meat cuts and the number of officially confirmed cases is now 26 and is expected to rise again, a health official told the press.

Maple Leaf foods, one of Canada's largest food processors, expanded its product recall over the weekend to include another 220 products, in addition to the two types of cold meat cuts already being pulled from the shelves.

Eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, commonly referred to as Listeria, can cause Listeriosis, a foodborne illness. The people most at risk of falling ill include the elderly, the very young, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems such as anyone with HIV or undergoing chemotherapy. Although Listeria is everywhere in the environment, food manufacturers have to follow strict procedures to make sure it does not get into processed foods.

The Canadian health authorities are now counting all deaths where the deceased was infected with the same strain of Listeria monocytogenes as that found in some cold meat cuts made by the company, regardless of their official cause of death. The new death toll is thus mainly due to reattribution of previously uncounted deaths, as Dr Mark Raizenne, the Public Health Agency of Canada's director general of food-borne diseases told the press, reported the New York Times. Raizenne said there are another 29 suspected cases to review and the count will probably rise again.

The situation presents a growing crisis for Maple Leaf foods and the family that controls it, said the Times. The company operates 24 factories in Canada.

In a video posted on YouTube over the weekend, president and chief executive of Maple Leaf, Michael McCain, expressed deep sympathy for the illness and loss of life that has been linked to the company's products:

"Words cannot begin to express our sadness for your pain," said McCain.

A press release posted on the company website at the same time said that as a precautionary measure, it was voluntarily expanding its recall of products made at the Toronto factory, establishment number 97B, based at Bartor Road.

Maple Leaf reported that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Public Health Agency of Canada investigation concluded that:

"The strain of Listeria bacteria, which is linked to the illness and death of several consumers, matches the Listeria strain identified in some Maple Leaf food products in two cases."

McCain said:

"If there is any question in the consumers' mind about any product from that plant, then the onus is on us, and the CFIA, to act decisively and swiftly to restore consumer confidence."

"From our standpoint this is the right thing to do. Our actions are guided by putting public health first," added McCain.

The company said that so far it has been told that only two production lines (numbers 8 and 9) have tested positive for Listeria, and there is no evidence of contamination beyond these lines. But they decided as a precaution to recall 100 per cent of the product made at this factory.

A full list of the products in the recall can be viewed at the company's website at

According to the New York Times many food companies are confused about which Maple Leaf products are safe and have stopped using any products from them altogether. Others have said they are not planning to drop Maple Leaf as a supplier. Several call-in radio shows on Ontario stations interviewed people who said they were throwing out all the meat in their refrigerators and freezers and many were not buying replacements, "at least not ones bearing Maple Leaf's brand" said the Times report.

Plants and vegetables can become contaminated with Listeria from the soil, water and fertilizers that use manure as a base. Even apparently healthy farm animals can carry the bacterium and contaminate animal foods such as meat and dairy produce.

Listeria is different to other food-borne pathogens because it can survive in the refrigerator. Also, foods contaminated with Listeria can look, smell and taste normal, although it can be killed by following correct food hygiene and cooking procedures.

Symptoms of listeriosis, which usually occur 24 hours after consumption of heavily contaminated food, include vomiting, nausea, cramps, diarrhea, severe headache, constipation and persistent fever. In some cases, the symptoms can be followed up to 70 days later by meningitis encephalitis (an infection of the brain or its surrounding tissues) and/or septicemia (blood poisoning), either of which can be fatal.

The illness can be treated effectively with antiobiotics.

Click here to learn more about Listeria and Listeriosis (Health Canada).

Sources: New York Times, Maple Leaf foods, Health Canada.

Jason X KILL COUNT (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

Section Issues On Medicine: Disease