Canadian Listeria Outbreak: Four Dead, 17 Ill, More Cases Feared

Canadian public health officials are saying they linked a deadly bacterial outbreak of <"">Listeria that has killed four people to recalled meat products from Maple Leaf Foods.  The outbreak resulted in 21 confirmed cases of Listeriosis and more are suspected to occur according to officials who note that Listeriosis has an incubation period that averages about three weeks.  Meanwhile, an additional 30 suspected cases are being investigated to confirm if they are related to the outbreak.

“Results of genetic testing from three samples of the products recalled by Maple Leaf Foods show that two tested positive for the outbreak strain of listeria,” the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement.  Test results for the third product were a close match to the outbreak strain, but showed a slight variance, the agency added, also saying that the investigation is continuing and is nowhere near over at this time.

Maple Leaf’s Toronto plant has shut down temporarily to allow for heavy sanitizing of the facility.  Linda Smith, a Maple Leaf spokesperson, said all the recalled meat products had been removed from stores across Canada.  The real problem is in determining where the meat products ended up following purchase by distributors, which can include hospitals or retirement homes.  “There is a very active effort to work with all the food distribution customers.  But it is not as direct, because there are customers, and then those customers have customers,” she said.

Small traces of Listeria monocytogenes were discovered in some of the 23 varieties of deli meats recalled by Maple Leaf Foods.  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.

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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