Canada says 12 dead in food poisoning outbreak

Mon Aug 25, 2008 6:45pm EDT
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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Twelve people have now died out of 26 confirmed cases of food poisoning linked to deli meats produced at a plant owned by Maple Leaf Foods Inc, Canadian health officials said Monday.

There are another 29 suspected cases of listeriosis, officials told reporters, and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the government expected more cases in coming days.

Maple Leaf Foods, one of Canada's biggest meat processors, had said it hoped to reopen the Toronto plant associated with the outbreak on Tuesday, but health officials said they will test and hold all meat produced there until they are satisfied it is not contaminated.

"The timeframe really isn't theirs. It belongs more to the (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)," Ritz said.

Maple Leaf has voluntarily pulled about 220 products made at the plant in one of the biggest food recalls ever in Canada, with direct costs to the company of about C$20 million ($19 million).

Listeria bacteria with the same genetic fingerprint as that found in the ill people was found in two beef products made at the plant. Those products and about 20 others made on the same lines were recalled last week.

Listeriosis, an illness that is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, the elderly, infants and people with weak immune systems, was a contributing factor in seven of the deaths, the Public Health Agency of Canada said.

Five others had the bacteria in their system, but the causes of their deaths are still under investigation, said the agency's Mark Raizenne.

Previously, four deaths had been attributed to the outbreak.   Continued...

<p>Maple Leaf Foods President and CEO Michael McCain addresses shareholders at the company's annual general meeting in Toronto April 26, 2006. Canadian health officials said on Monday 12 people have died out of 26 confirmed cases of listeriosis, a food poisoning that genetic tests linked to prepared meats from a Toronto plant owned by Maple Leaf Foods Inc &lt;MFI.TO&gt;. REUTERS/J.P. Moczulski</p>