Former Edmonton health chief to investigate listeriosis outbreak

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Last Updated: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 | 5:40 PM ET

CBC News

The former head of Edmonton's health authority will lead an investigation into last year's deadly listeriosis outbreak, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Tuesday.

Sheila Weatherill, a past CEO of Capital Health in Edmonton, was appointed by Harper to act as an independent investigator into the outbreak, which sparked a nationwide recall of Maple Leaf meat products.

She will also offer recommendations on how to prevent a similar outbreak in the future.

Weatherill's report is to be given to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz by July 20 four months later than the government's original plan to have the report finished in March.

At the height of the crisis in September, Harper promised an arm's-length investigation would be launched at the end of the deadly outbreak, which left 20 Canadians dead.

The prime minister said at the time that the purpose of the probe would be to ensure "we get to the bottom on the government's side, on the bureaucratic side, of exactly what transpired and to make sure that as we go forward and we make changes to our system, that this kind of thing can't happen again."

Harper, however, stopped short of promising a full judicial inquiry.

The outbreak, which began in August, was traced back to meat from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto and prompted the company to issue a recall of virtually all the products produced at the facility.

The company agreed last month to pay up to $27 million to settle class-action lawsuits.

Listeria bacteria can be found in unpasteurized dairy products, raw vegetables and meats and processed foods including deli meats and hot dogs. Eating foods spoiled with Listeria monocytogenes can result in serious illness that can cause brain and blood infections and, in extreme cases, death.

With files from the Canadian Press



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