Confirmed deaths rise in listeriosis outbreak
Published Thursday, August 28, 2008 8:48PM EDT
The number of deaths in Canada being blamed on a nationwide outbreak of listeriosis has grown from five to eight.
Mark Razienne of the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaking at a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, said all three of the latest victims are from Ontario, and had previously been on a list of deaths under investigation.
The announcement came as an Ontario family prepared for the funeral of the 89-year-old great-grandmother they say died from listeriosis and as more products were added to the growing recall list of potentially tainted foods.
Cooked ham and salami sandwiches sold in Sobeys, Foodland and IGA stores in Ontario may contain listeria monocytogenes, the bacteria that has been linked to 15 deaths.
The sandwiches are made with both whole wheat and white bread and were in 900, 450 and 220-gram packages and are marked as having been packed as recently as Aug. 24, 2008.
Sobeys spokesperson Andrew Walker said the affected sandwiches were prepared and sold before the expanded recall and were pulled immediately following word from Maple Leaf. He deferred to the CFIA questions on why there was a three-day lapse before Wednesday's recall, saying Sobeys follows the agency's guidance -- but reiterated that the affected products were removed on Sunday.
"Because we knew we had made those products, we had removed them from sale when the recall was initiated," Walker told the Canadian Press.
"We executed the recall, we did it effectively, efficiently and the products that are now being recalled were prepared and sold prior to the recall."
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency also added certain Kirkland Signature platters to its list of products that could contain listeria.
Kirkland Signature brand croissant and meat-and-cheese platters -- which carry best-before dates up to and including Aug. 28 and 29, respectively -- may contain meat products already recalled by Maple Leaf Foods. The platters were sold at Costco outlets across Canada.
The products were added to a list that now includes more than 220 food items manufactured at the Toronto Maple Leaf foods plant at the centre of the outbreak.
The funeral for Frances Clark, of Madoc, Ont. will be held Thursday.
She was described by her daughter as an active and healthy octogenarian who made the "best raspberry pie in the world" before she suddenly fell ill last week, then died on Monday.
It has not been confirmed whether Clark was infected by the same strain in the outbreak that originated at the Toronto plant.
The local health unit said a recent listeriosis death was a "probable" outbreak case. However, the health unit didn't confirm that person was Clark.
Her daughter Karen Clark said her mother began feeling ill on Wednesday night. By Thursday she had a headache, and by Friday when she was taken to hospital her eyes were fixed and staring, and she was non-verbal.
On Sunday, a doctor confirmed a blood sample was positive for listeria, By Monday, she was dead.
"It hit so fast and so furious and so cruel, I mean one minute you have her and the next you don't," Karen Clark told CTV's Canada AM.
"Somewhere along the line something happened. We can't even get to the grief stage yet because we don't even know what to think, where to begin."
Clark leaves behind two children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, her daughter said.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz offered his condolences to Clark's family, and defended Canada's food inspection system saying the government is doing everything it can to prevent further outbreaks.
He told Canada AM the country has a world-class food inspection process, but more resources are being added to boost its effectiveness.
"There's a lot of mixed messages," Ritz said. "The opposition parties are screaming that we're cutting funding. Nothing could be further from the truth. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to add up the numbers and see there's $113 million new dollars going into the system."
Ritz denied reports based on a leaked government memo that suggested anticipated changes to the federal food inspection system may have already been in use at the Toronto plant.
Ritz said the memo actually dealt with slaughtering processes, not processing guidelines, and wasn't relevant to the listeria outbreak.
Also on Wednesday, reports quoted a union official and former inspector as saying inspectors at the Toronto plant spent most of their time doing paperwork.
Ritz said the government is trying to give inspectors the tools they need to do their jobs more effectively. He maintained the system is top-notch by international standards, but said more can always be done.
"We understand that and that's why we continue to build on it. That's why we're allocating resources, both monetary and human, back on the site," Ritz said.
Paul Mayers, of The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said the criticism that inspectors spent most of their time doing paperwork is a "derogatory" way of describing their work. He said the paperwork side of the job is just as important as work on the plant floor.
On Wednesday, president of Maple Leaf Foods, Michael McCain, took full responsibility for the outbreak.
"We have an unwavering commitment to keep our food safe, and we have excellent systems and processes in place. But this week it's our best efforts that failed, not the regulators or the Canadian food safety system," said McCain at a press conference in Toronto.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada there are 29 confirmed cases of the outbreak strain in the country, resulting in 15 deaths -- 12 in Ontario, and one each in Saskatchewan, B.C. and Quebec.
With files from the Canadian Press