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Maple Leaf delays Toronto plant restart

Tarred with a link to a listeriosis outbreak now connected to six deaths in Ontario and illnesses in four provinces, plus a costly product recall, Maple Leaf Foods has re-thought its plans to reopen an affected Toronto meat processing plant on Tuesday.

The food processing company announced Monday night that it will now delay the reopening of its Bartor Road plant until Thursday (Aug. 28), but noted it will daily “reassess” its decision to restart operations.

After announcing Saturday that the plant would undergo the “most comprehensive sanitization possible,” Maple Leaf said Monday it plans to review what other changes should be implemented at the site, including measures such as a product “hold and release” initiative.

“As we
get ready to resume production at Bartor Road, we’ve assembled industry
leading experts to consult and advise us on several physical and operational
enhancements being considered,” CEO Michael McCain said in the company’s release Monday.

Maple Leaf said it’s now looking to complete additional
“disassembly” of equipment in the Toronto facility and to run further
testing, likely to include pilot runs of product not destined for
commercial sale.

The Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said on Saturday they had received lab results from Health Canada that established a link between meat products recalled by Maple Leaf Foods from Bartor Road and this outbreak of listeriosis.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Saturday that 21 cases of listeriosis had been confirmed, and the same bacterial strain has been detected in four people who have died. A further 30 cases were under investigation.

By Monday, Ontario’s provincial health ministry had updated its own count to 20 confirmed cases of listeriosis and 13 further cases under investigation. Among the confirmed cases are 11 deaths, including six in which listeriosis has been ruled to be an “underlying or contributing cause.”

“Check their refrigerators”

“I would like to remind the public to check their refrigerators and
ensure that any products related to the food recall are thrown out,” said Dr.
David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health, in a release Monday.

Local public health units in the province have been asked to check their hospitals, long-term care homes and daycares to ensure any products from
the Maple Leaf plant have been removed and are not being consumed. The public health units have also been asked to check for recalled products at key
retail outlet locations, along with smaller
“mom-and-pop” shops that may not yet have heard of the recall.

Maple Leaf on Saturday expanded
its previous product recall to include all production from the Bartor Road facility, which is identified on affected products’ labels, near their “Best Before” or “Packed On” dates, as establishment “97B.”

Maple Leaf’s expanded recall includes a long list of products distributed nationally to retail stores and food service institutions such as restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutional cafeterias or kitchens, “notwithstanding the fact that there is no evidence of Listeria contamination in product beyond the production lines originally under investigation,” the company said.

“Tragically, our products have been linked to illness and loss of life.
To those people who are ill, and to the families who have lost loved ones, I
offer my deepest and sincerest sympathies,” McCain said Saturday in a release.

Listeriosis is caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes,, which is often found in the environment, particularly in soil, vegetation and animal feed and in human and animal feces.

Food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled, CFIA said in a release Sunday. Symptoms of foodborne listeriosis include high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea.

Pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk, CFIA said. Infected pregnant women may experience only a mild, flu-like illness, but infections during pregnancy can lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn, or even stillbirth.

Because the onset of symptoms of listeriosis can occur up to 70 days after contaminated food is eaten, CFIA said it expects that the number of confirmed and suspected cases will continue to rise over the next several weeks.

In a separate release Sunday, Maple Leaf management estimated that the company can expect to eat direct costs related to the recalls, mainly in reimbursements for returned product, factory sanitation and other direct expenses, expected to total about $20 million before taxes. Maple Leaf said it expects that the charge will be included in its third fiscal quarter ending next month.

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