October 9, 2008 / 6:03 PM / 9 years ago

Maple Leaf CEO says listeria in Toronto meat plant no surprise

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Maple Leaf Foods Inc Chief Executive Michael McCain said on Thursday that it was not surprising to find listeria bacteria in a Maple Leaf meat plant in Toronto after a food poisoning outbreak because of the bacteria’s prevalence in the environment.

<p>Maple Leaf Foods President and CEO Michael McCain addresses shareholders at the company's annual general meeting in Toronto April 26, 2006. REUTERS/J.P. Moczulski</p>

“Listeria exists in 100 percent of all plants, and it is impossible to eliminate it,” McCain told reporters, noting the company sanitizes its plants to reduce the risk of the bacteria contaminating food at levels high enough to cause illness or death.

Maple Leaf, one of Canada’s largest meat processors, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced late on Wednesday that four samples of meat products at the plant had tested positive for the bacteria.

Contaminated meat from the plant caused an outbreak of listeriosis this summer that has been linked to at least 20 deaths.

Maple Leaf has not distributed any meat products from the plant since August as government officials try to make sure it has eliminated the source of the outbreak.

The plant reopened three weeks ago and has been running at 30 percent capacity as government officials rigorously test meats produced there, all of which are being held in warehouses.

The company says two slicers in the plant had been harboring the bacteria that caused the outbreak, which prompted one of the largest meat recalls in Canada’s history.

Maple Leaf shares have plunged more than 30 percent since the recalls, and were down 38 Canadian cents at C$7.36 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday.

($1=$1.14 Canadian)

Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Peter Galloway

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