October 9, 2008 / 7:02 AM / in 9 years

More listeria cases found at Maple Leaf plant

TORONTO (Reuters) - Maple Leaf Foods halted distribution for a second time at a Toronto plant at the center of a tainted-meat crisis linked to at least 20 deaths after Canadian investigators found four new positive samples of listeria in products.

None of the products had been put on sale because the plant was still under control of the agency after the outbreak, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the company said in separate releases.

Maple Leaf Chief Executive Officer Michael McCain said it was not a surprise that a few cases had been discovered, given that listeria exists in all food plants.

McCain said the four new cases were not linked to the production line that prompted the closure of the plant. It was reopened on Sept 17.

“We are being ultra cautious in this facility, more cautious than any other plant in North America,” McCain said in a release on Wednesday. “Under the circumstances, we consider this to be an appropriate action plan. Listeriosis is an exceptionally rare illness, but we are taking every precaution possible.”

The Toronto plant was shut down in mid-August after infected meat products began surfacing in Canada, prompting one of the largest meat recalls in the country’s history. The company said a slicer was to blame.

Since the plant reopened more than 5,000 tests have been conducted on products at the plant with four positive findings for the listeria monocytogenes.

An additional 841 environmental samples of the plant have been taken with one positive test for listeria found. This, the company said, was “considerably lower” than what is considered normal under similar listeria management programs.

As a result of the four new findings, the company and the food inspection agency decided to withhold distribution of all products at the facility until it validates the findings.

“While there is no risk to the public, we are behaving in the most conservative way possible, according to the protocols in how these findings are always to be handled,” McCain said.

The Globe and Mail said members of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council office met with CFIA representatives Wednesday night to discuss the latest findings.

(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

($1=$1.12 Canadian)

Reporting by Scott Anderson

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