Maple Leaf dismisses risk after more listeria found at plant


'Impossible to eliminate it,' company president says

Canwest News Service

Published: Thursday, October 09, 2008

Source of Article:

TORONTO - The president of the Toronto meat processing plant at the centre of a deadly listeriosis outbreak on Thursday reassured consumers that despite more listeria found at the plant there is no risk to the public.

"Listeria exists in 100 per cent of all plants and it is impossible to eliminate it" Michael McCain, president of Maple Leaf Foods told a news conference in Toronto. "As we enhance the environmental testing our objective is to find more positives."

He said 30 per cent of all raw meat products contain listeria and that finding the bacterium is a "routine" occurrence.`

"Product tests have resulted in four positive tests. . . . We quarantined the product and it never left our control," he said.

Officials have not determined whether it is the same strain that is linked to the outbreak.

"There is zero risk to the public," he reassured consumers. "No product has left the facility."

The news came weeks after the plant had reopened following a nearly month-long closure.

The particularly nasty strain of Listeria monocytogenes, which likely originated within the plant's meat slicers, has been linked to 20 deaths throughout Canada.

McCain called negative findings a "false sense of security" and said the new findings were the result of rigorous testing.

"One to 10 per cent of all the food products you eat would test positive for Listeria monocytogenes. You cannot eliminate this risk."

McCain also said that the delay getting the food to the store shelves had more to do with mechanical problems than food safety issues. He said the sanitizing process has been vigorous with the scrubbing of machines for six to eight hours a day.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed late Wednesday night four new positive test results for listeriosis were found from more than 2,700 product samples at the Toronto Maple Leaf Foods plant.

No Maple Leaf products have been shipped to stores since the plant reopened Sept. 17 because it is still under the supervision and control of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Wednesday's statement said the agency and Health Canada will proceed with an assessment and further scientific evaluation of the tainted meat.

A further 33 cases of people falling ill with listeriosis have been linked to the same outbreak.

Six deaths in Ontario are still under investigation to determine whether they arose from the same plant.

For most people, the risk of listeriosis is low. However, infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to illness.



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