Ombudsman faults inspection process in Quebec listeria outbreak

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Last Updated: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | 3:20 PM ET Comments2Recommend3

CBC News

The Quebec government was ill-prepared to handle the outbreak of listeria contamination in some cheese products last summer, but it was right to order a mass recall of the cheeses, according to the provincial ombudsman.

Raymonde Saint-Germain tabled her report in the national assembly Tuesday.

The contamination sickened more than 30 people, and health officials blame two deaths on the tainted cheese.

Saint-Germain said inspection norms were not strict enough prior to the listeria outbreak, and, in one case, a cheese producer hadn't been visited by provincial inspectors for three years.

But, Saint-Germain said, the government's controversial decision to order the widespread destruction of cheese was the right move.

"There was cross-contamination between different cheeses, and also between cheeses and other food products. So, there was no choice. They had to recall and massively destroy the cheeses recalled," she said.

During the outbreak, the Agriculture Ministry searched more than 300 businesses, and seized and destroyed thousands of kilograms of cheese suspected of being contaminated with the potentially deadly listeriosis bacteria.

Cheese producers and retailers accused the government of overreacting and demanded compensation for tens of thousands of dollars in financial losses, which the province has refused on the grounds it was protecting public health and safety.

Saint-Germain is recommending compensation for a limited number of cheese makers who she said were named and faced financial losses even though there was no evidence of contamination in their facilities.


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