Maple Leaf identifies sources of Listeria contamination

by Keith Nunes
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TORONTO — An investigation into the likely cause of Listeria monocytogenes contamination at a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto has concluded two slicing machines are the likely sources of contamination, according to the company. After study of the records, the physical plant and product test results received from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, both internal and external experts concluded the most likely source was a possible collection point for bacteria located deep inside the mechanical operations of the two slicing machines.

Thirty-eight cases of listeriosis have been confirmed so far, 20 more are suspected, 13 deaths have been connected to this Listeria outbreak and another six deaths are being investigated.

Maple Leaf said sanitization of the equipment was completed on a daily basis in accordance with or exceeding the equipment manufacturer's recommendations. However, upon full disassembly, areas were found where bacteria may accumulate inside the slicing machines and avoid the sanitization process. There were also other environmental factors, not on product contact surfaces, that may have contributed to the contamination.

"We deeply regret this incident and the impact it has had on people’s lives," said Michael McCain, president and chief executive officer. "We have the highest food-safety standards and we have worked around the clock and left no stone unturned to identify the root cause and eliminate the source of this contamination.

"We are fully cooperating with the C.F.I.A. as they continue their investigation and conduct due diligence and verification. The plant will not re-open and no products will be released until the C.F.I.A. and Maple Leaf are confident in the effectiveness of the enhanced food safety protocols in place."

On Aug. 20, Maple Leaf shut down all operations at the plant. It implemented a recall of all 191 products made at the facility from Jan. 1, 2008, to the present. Subsequent testing of recalled products showed no Listeria contamination was present in any products other than the three products manufactured on the two production lines involved.

Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada, announced an independent investigation into the food-borne illness outbreak.

The investigation into the Listeria outbreak will have multiple focal points, including examining the events that contributed to the listeriosis outbreak; reviewing the efficiency and effectiveness of the response of the federal government, in conjunction with their food safety system partners, in terms of prevention, recall of contaminated products and collaboration and communication with its food safety system partners and consumers; and make recommendations, based on the lessons learned from the outbreak and from other countries in terms of best practices, as to what may be done to enhance both prevention of a similar outbreak in the future, and the removal of contaminated product from the food supply.

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