Maple Leaf identifies likely source of listeria

Fri Sep 5, 2008 10:30pm EDT
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TORONTO (Reuters) - Maple Leaf Foods said on Friday that two meat-slicing machines at its now-closed Toronto plant were the likely source of listeria contamination that has been linked to 19 deaths.

The company, Canada's largest meat processor, said experts pinpointed the likely source of the bacteria after careful inspection of the plant and product tests by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, or CFIA.

The listeriosis outbreak led Maple Leaf last month to pull more than 200 products from store shelves in one of Canada's largest food recalls, while the affected Toronto plant was shut down.

The company said on Friday that testing showed no listeria contamination in any products except three that were processed at the two suspect production lines.

Other environmental factors, such as a drain and the location of a freight elevator, may have contributed to the contamination, the company said.

"The plant will not reopen and no products will be released until the CFIA and Maple Leaf are confident in the effectiveness of the enhanced food safety protocols in place," Michael McCain, the company's chief executive, said in a statement.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Wednesday the federal government would hold a public inquiry into the outbreak after a general election expected on October 14.

The opposition Liberals said Harper made the announcement about the public inquiry to deflect questions during the run-up to an election campaign.

The bacteria has been linked to 19 deaths, 13 in which it was a contributing or underlying cause and six where its role was being investigated.

(Reporting by Frank McGurty; Editing by Peter Cooney)

<p>A sign for the Maple Leaf food processing plant is seen in Toronto in this August 21, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>