October 9, 2008 / 9:23 PM / in 9 years

Canadians seemed unfazed by new listeria discovery

TORONTO (Reuters) - Threats of food poisoning from sliced meats produced by a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto seem to have done little to curb Canadians’ fondness for deli-style sandwiches, even as the company reported it had found more listeria bacteria.

Maple Leaf halted production at the plant on Wednesday after investigators found four new samples of listeria in its meat products.

None of the products had gone on sale because the plant is operating under tight restrictions as health inspectors work to make sure the company has eliminated the source of a contamination earlier this summer that has been linked to 20 deaths.

But the news from Maple Leaf on Thursday was greeted more by shrugs than by fears, at least among the lunchtime crowd in Toronto.

“I don’t have any fears at all. I think they have tested it enough and everything should be safe for the public,” said Kunal Patel, a business consultant, who just purchased a submarine sandwich at a Mr. Sub shop in a downtown Toronto mall.

Many large fast-food chains, such as Tim Hortons, or privately held Mr. Sub or Subway moved quickly during the initial listeriosis scare, putting up signs at cash registers or at store entrances to assure customers that none of their meat products came from Maple Leaf.

Subway corporate offices in Connecticut were not available for comment but a Canadian franchisee said there had been little impact from the listeria scare.

“We didn’t really have any products that were Maple Leaf products, but I think people in general are more careful now,” said Paul Karam, a Subway franchise owner in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

“I wouldn’t say there has been a drop off in sales. Certainly people are asking questions, but we haven’t seen a decrease in sales really.”

Corporate spokesmen for Canadian-based Tim Hortons and Mr. Sub could not immediately be reached for comment.

Andrew Slodowy, a hot dog vendor on a main street in Toronto’s business district, said he hadn’t heard much concern from customers.

“It looks like it’s an old story already. Now people are more scared about the money to buy the food,” he said referring to the global financial crisis.

Vinita Dubey, assistant medical officer of health at Toronto Public Health, said most people have little to worry about.

“Healthy adults and children, if they consume a small amount of listeria, will not get sick. And if they do get sick will get a mild illness,” she said.

Still, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are in greater danger from listeriosis, which can be fatal.

Symptoms usually develop from one to up to 90 days after first eating contaminated foods and include mild flu-like illness, nausea, fever and vomiting.

Despite assurances, some people simply steer clear of eating any processed meat products.

“I wouldn’t normally eat cold cuts anyway. I just don’t know what’s in it,” said customer John Boadway, while shopping in a Toronto food court.

($1=$1.15 Canadian)

Reporting by Scott Anderson

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