Listeriosis investigation seeks public comment

The government-commissioned Weatherill investigation on last summer’s listeriosis outbreak now wants to read the views of the general public.

The investigation, conducted by Sheila Weatherill, the former CEO of Edmonton’s Capital Health, has scheduled a period of “in-depth probing” between mid-April and the end of June, after which Weatherill is to start writing her report to federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz by July 20.

On the investigation website, Weatherill has added a section titled “Listening to Canadians,” in which the public is encouraged to send comment by e-mail on a list of questions as well as any “other input you feel is appropriate.”

Among Weatherill’s questions for the general public:

  • How did you first learn about the outbreak (TV, newspaper, radio, word of mouth)?
  • Did you go online to look up information on listeriosis? Which web site(s) were most informative? If you visited the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s website, was the information easy to locate, was it easy to understand and was it helpful?
  • Did the information you obtained (from whatever source) tell you what you needed to know? For example, did you know what products had been recalled, and how to tell if they were in your refrigerator? Were the symptoms of listeriosis clearly communicated, so that you were able to determine if you or others close to you should seek medical advice?
  • In terms of government management and communications of the crisis, what do you think should have been done better?

Weatherill’s investigation follows the outbreak of listeriosis that began last August involving a specific listeria monocytogenes strain that sickened 57 people in seven provinces from B.C. to New Brunswick, including 41 people in Ontario.

The strain was tracked to prepared deli meats from Maple Leaf Foods’ Bartor Road meat plant No. 97B in Toronto.

Among those 57 cases, as of April 17 this year, the listeria strain in question was ruled to be the “underlying or contributing cause” in the deaths of 22 people, including 16 in Ontario alone.

Maple Leaf responded last summer by launching a major and well-publicized product recall that crossed over into other food brands using product from the facility. The Toronto plant was shut down Aug. 20 and has since been cleaned and resumed production.

In an entry on its company food safety blog Wednesday, Maple Leaf said it’s “extremely supportive” of the “Listening to Canadians” portion of the investigation and “welcomes the opportunity to learn more through this effort.”

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