VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Production resumed on Wednesday at the Maple Leaf Foods deli meat plant at the center of this summer’s deadly outbreak of listeriosis food poisoning in Canada.
The Toronto area facility will increase production gradually, but no products will be distributed until inspectors have verified that enhanced safety procedures are working, Maple Leaf Chief Executive Michael McCain said.
“I think it would probably be reasonable to expect the product on the shelves mid to late next week,” McCain told a news conference in Toronto.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it has allowed the plant to run for a three-day period during which products will be held and tested.
The Bartor Road plant was closed August 20 after samples of two deli meats tested positive for the same strain of listeria bacteria that had made dozens of Canadian sick this summer.
The bacteria has been linked to 16 cases in which it was a contributing or underlying cause of death, and eight more cases in which its connection with a death was still being investigated.
The outbreak prompted the company, Canada’s largest producer of processed meat, to recall all of the about 220 products made at the plant as a precaution. It was one of Canada’s biggest food recalls.
The meats had been shipped to nursing homes, hospitals as well as stores and restaurants.
The meat was believed to have been contaminated by bacteria on two slicers, and the company has changed the procedures for cleaning such equipment in all of its facilities, McCain said.
McCain said Maple Leaf recognized it now had to rebuild confidence among consumers and that some customers will be slow to return to its products.
“We recognize that it is going to take time and commitment to earn that back,” he said.
The incident has sparked complaints that the federal government has given producers too big a role in inspecting their own facilities and products.
McCain said he supported giving government food inspectors more resources, and that he still believed Canada’s food system is among the safest in the world.
Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing by Peter Galloway