Canada unprepared for listeriosis outbreak: report

Tue Jul 21, 2009 2:25pm EDT
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada's food-safety system was caught unprepared and acted without a sense of urgency during last year's outbreak of listeriosis in which 22 people died after eating contaminated deli meat, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Sheila Weatherill, a nurse and health executive who led a federally appointed investigation into last summer's outbreak, said in her report there was evidence of contamination on meat-production lines months before the outbreak, but it was not effectively monitored.

A shortage of food-safety workers, with some on summer vacation, and insufficient training of food inspectors contributed to the outbreak, Weatherill said.

Last summer, contaminated deli meats from a Maple Leaf Foods processing plant in Toronto were linked to 22 deaths and sickness among many more people.

"I learned this summer's outbreak was rare and it was a complex event that defies simple explanations," Weatherill said in a news conference in Ottawa.

"Until the system is remedied, events like those of the summer of 2008 remain a real risk."

After an extensive investigation, Maple Leaf said it believed two slicers at the plant had been harboring listeria bacteria. The company tried to correct a listeria problem in the plant in 2007 and 2008 with sanitation and thought it was under control, the report said.

Maple Leaf didn't initially report the listeria because the government did not require it to do so. The company said on Tuesday that it has since improved its food safety measures.   Continued...

<p>Independent investigator Sheila Weatherill listens to a French to English translation of a question as she reports her findings into the August 2008 Listeriosis outbreak that killed 22 Canadians during a news conference in Ottawa July 21, 2009. REUTERS/Blair Gable</p>