Thursday, October 09, 2008

Since September 17th the Maple Leaf Foods plant at the centre of the recent listeriosis outbreak in Canada has been reopened, and it is now processing meats even though the release of the product has still not been authorized. In the meantime, two days ago, the CFIA has also announced a recall of Dunn's Famous brand smoked meats distributed to Costco stores in Québec, Ottawa and the Atlantic provinces.
Today,however, it came to light that intensive testing has shown that foods from the Maple Leaf plant are still occasionally contaminated by Listeria. See the article below from today's Globe and Mail.
Company spokesman Michael McCain rushed to put a positive spin on matters. You can see the basic story of his reply in an article from the Windsor Star today. The main thrust of his argument is that "listeria is everywhere", and that we inevitably consume the bacteria everyday. I guess this means that we shouldn't worry about it if it appears in his plant. The good gentleman made some rather "weaselly" comparisons to the positive rate in the Maple Leaf plant and other surveys in Canada and the USA where sampling was done at the point of sale. In actual fact US law requires that there be no listeria at the point of production, as already pointed out on this blog. Sampling days later after transport and the opportunity for the bacteria to multiply would inevitably lead to a higher positive rate. What McCain is actually saying is that his company should be allowed to slip back into a less intensive regime of testing because somehow Listeria is ubiquitous. Molly would suggest that the opposite is true, that this "trial run" shows that the Maple Leaf plant should remain under permanent high levels of testing and supervision. They have proven, after all, that they cannot achieve the standards required , and achieved,across the border, and this says that the only way to assure the safety of their product is to keep the present testing regime. Perhaps make it even tighter.
The report of McCain's press release on the radio today was even more bizarre than what was reported in the Windsor Star. Molly will try and search down the full text, in the hopes it hasn't been altered by after the fact proof-reading. Really, the proof-reading should have been done before issuing the statement. There were some real howlers there. Is Listeria really "the oldest organism on Earth" ? Cough,cough !. Then there was the Maoesque statement that ""Listeria is benign to the masses". Glad to hear that Chairman McCain, and assuredly it isn't the "primary contradiction". Wellllllll, I guess the "masses" don't include AIDS patients, organ transplant recipients, diabetics, old people, pregnant women, and newborn babies. The fate of such "running dogs" shouldn't impede the great and glorious march to profitability of the 'Peoples' Maple Leaf Party' , relying on Mao TseCain Thought. Wow, I love it.
Anyways, here's the article from the Globe and Mail. Do check in at the Food Safety First website for breaking news on this front as it develops.
Listeriosis bacteria found at Toronto plant:
Four new positive tests confirmed in samples of meat at reopened Maple Leaf site
October 9, 2008
OTTAWA -- Four new positive tests for listeriosis have been confirmed in samples of meat at the Maple Leaf plant at the centre of the outbreak that has left 20 Canadians dead.

The plant was allowed to reopen on Sept. 17, but no product has so far been allowed to enter the market.

Yesterday federal officials from the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy Council Office and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency met to discuss the new findings that the bacteria is still present in the plant.

Since the plant resumed production, there have been 2,700 product samples and four positive test results for Listeria monocytogenes.

Paul Mayers, associate vice-president of the CFIA, confirmed the results in a telephone interview with The Globe and Mail.

"We've just received results related to these four positives," Mr. Mayers said. "The plant is operating. The product isn't reaching the marketplace.

"We will, with Health Canada, conduct an assessment to assess what these findings might mean in terms of the ongoing activities in the plant and whether any additional measures would be necessary in relation to product from that plant. Of course, that assessment has not yet been conducted."

He said CFIA and Health Canada will now do a full assessment and evaluation of the positive findings.

Mr. Mayers confirmed that the CFIA informed both the Privy Council Office and the PMO about the positive findings and said both agencies are regularly in the loop on new developments related to listeria.

The findings, which were posted last night on the CFIA's website in the wake of inquiries from The Globe, come as the public service is under orders not to create waves during the federal election campaign.

Bob Kingston, president of the Agriculture Union representing CFIA inspectors, said he was "flabbergasted" by the positive tests, given the scrutiny the plant is under. "It's mind-boggling. They're cleaning up their place with the whole world watching and they still don't get it right?"
The union leader said the findings underscore his organization's campaign to block efforts to transfer certain food safety responsibilities to industry.

The most recent government announcement related to listeriosis was a recall issued Tuesday by CFIA, warning the public not to eat certain Dunn's Famous brand smoked meat pouches that were distributed to Costco in Quebec, Ottawa and the Atlantic provinces.

To date, there have been 20 deaths where listeriosis was the underlying or contributing cause, another three deaths where listeriosis was present and a further six deaths in Ontario that are still under investigation.

The latest development comes as the outbreak has already become an issue in the federal election campaign. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was forced to apologize earlier in the campaign for joking about the issue during an internal government conference call. In that call, Mr. Ritz reportedly said the government was suffering a death by a thousand cuts, "or should I say cold cuts."

Since the outbreak began, there have also been numerous news media reports based on government documents either leaked to the news media or obtained through access to information requests showing concern had been expressed internally about the quality of food safety in Canada.

On Sept. 6, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced an independent investigation into the listeria outbreak, which traced back to a Maple Leaf meat plant in Toronto. The government has yet to name the head of the investigation, but has released terms of reference.

The investigation will not be allowed to come to conclusions regarding the civil or criminal liability of any person or organization.

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