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Listeria found again at Maple Leaf plant

Just a few weeks after deep-cleaning and reopening to a far heavier testing regime, Maple Leaf Foods’ Bartor Road meat processing plant in Toronto has yielded a few product samples contaminated with listeria.

Listeria monocytogenes was detected in four positive test results out of over 2,700 product samples reported to date since the plant’s restart, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said late Wednesday.

“All products produced to date by the (Bartor Road) plant are under CFIA detention and control,” the agency said in its statement. “No product from the 97B Maple Leaf Foods plant has reached the marketplace.”

CFIA and Health Canada said Wednesday they will do a “full and comprehensive assessment and further scientific evaluation of the new findings over the coming days.”

CFIA on Sept. 17 allowed Maple Leaf to restart with “limited production” on Bartor Road so it could assess and verify the new processes put in place to help prevent any further contamination.

The plant was connected to an outbreak this summer of a specific strain of listeriosis, which as of Wednesday is confirmed to have sickened 53 people in seven provinces, mostly in Ontario.

Among those confirmed cases, 29 people have died and 20 of those deaths were found to be due or partly due to listeriosis, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported Wednesday.

Maple Leaf shut down the plant Aug. 20 and recalled all 191 products made there from Jan. 1, 2008 onward. It said last month that the “most likely” source of contamination was a possible collection point for bacteria “deep inside the mechanical operations” of two specific meat slicing machines, beyond the reach of previously recommended sanitizing procedures.

Listeria monocytogenes, which causes listeriosis infections, is a naturally occurring bacteria that cannot be completely eliminated from the environment, CFIA said previously. “What is important is that surfaces in direct contact with product, such as slicers, must be 100 per cent free of contamination.”

“Listeria exists in all food plants, all supermarkets and presumably in all kitchens,” Maple Leaf CEO Michael McCain said in a company release Wednesday. “Our testing protocols are designed to find positive results so we can remediate them immediately. The Bartor Road team has found a very small number of positive results, not unexpectedly, and is reacting exactly according to food safety protocols.

“While there is no risk to the public, we are behaving in the most conservative way possible, according to the protocols in how these findings are always to be handled.”

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