Death toll from listeria in Canada climbs

Depending on what sources are cited, there are now four confirmed deaths in Ontario and one in B.C. from the same strain of listeria. Several more deaths are being investigated, and the number of ill will continue to rise.

The spin that various social actors and politicians are putting on this listeria outbreak is beyond gross – it’s set a new low for unwarranted aggrandizing.

While preparing to do a live interview with CBC NewsWorld on Thurs., the host introduced the program by saying that the first case of listeria was in a 36-year-old pregnant woman in late June. As a pregnant Amy looked on – she’s very supportive of my media activities and viciously edits much of my writing, and vice-versa – I tried not to go, WTF, as the cameras were rolling.

So I’m baffled why various politicians and health types are bragging about how well the system worked to identify this outbreak.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Friday that it was Ontario that "blew the whistle," stating,

"We’ve put in place a new system that allows us to detect an outbreak and to see a pattern very early in the game. I’m glad we got hold of it early and now we’ll take serious steps working with the feds to put it behind us."

Robert Clarke, the assistant deputy minister of the Public Health Agency of Canada, said Friday that the government’s actions in this case were quite rapid and an illustration of success.

"The fact that it actually moved along, got investigated, ended up at CFIA and others finding samples that were positive in the food was actually quite fast in terms of how these things could progress.”

Premier and PHAC dude, two months after the first case is not an early warning system. And while you’re blowing yourselves, how about a little empathy for the sick and dead?

On Friday, Michael McCain, president of Maple Leaf Foods, published  a full-page open letter in major Canadian newspapers, stressing the steps the company has taken, including a voluntary recall of 23 meat products.

In an internal e-mail to Maple Leaf employees Thursday morning, McCain said,

“I’m sure most of you have read the newspapers and listened to the TV or radio reports like I have. This isn’t something we should ever want to be in the news about, but we have no reason to hang our heads – we’re doing what is the right thing to do in this situation…acting responsibly and with extraordinary precaution.

“The headlines certainly suggest that our product are the cause of the illness and single death reported. It is important to note that:

• Listeria exists all around us in our environment, all the time. 10% of us carry it on us (according to some reports), and it exists in broad types of food in small percentages.
• Listeriosis, caused by Listeria Monocytogenes, occurs regularly (some 60 cases per year in Canada), and is mostly effecting the immune deficient (see previous descriptions), and very sadly people do die from this who are susceptible
• All we know factually is this….we have had three small samples of two items test positive for LM, and that Public Health tell us there is an increase in listeriosis illness all connected to a single DNA pattern, with one related death. We DO NOT have factual linkage that these are related to our product, although we could not say it is impossible, given our own positive (albeit small sample) test result. Again, there is no factual linkage we are aware of.
• That is why we took the dramatic action we did – recall all the product (ALL – not just the products in question) from these lines, and shut down the plant for a "deep clean". These were precautionary measures, all made with the most conservative view in mind – well beyond what the CFIA was asking of us.
• The CFIA and Public Health are continuing their investigation.

Of course the media will extend that, and we expected this.”

Did you expect that more people would die? Did you or do you warn pregnant women about the risks associated with consuming your products?

Also, the Globe and Mail reports in Saturday’s edition that four days before Maple Leaf Foods Inc. warned the public that two varieties of sliced meat may have been contaminated with listeria, the company told its distributors to stop shipping three different products and that federal health authorities were investigating its Toronto plant.

On Aug. 13, Maple Leaf sent a letter to its distributors requesting that, as a precautionary measure, they stop shipping the company’s Sure Slice roast beef, corned beef and Black Forest ham because the processing plant in Toronto where the meat was produced was under investigation by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

On Aug. 17, Maple Leaf recalled its Sure Slice roast beef and corned beef after the roast beef tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes, a food-borne bacterium that can cause serious illness in pregnant women and the elderly.

Then on Aug. 20, after being informed that both the Sure Slice roast beef and corned beef tested positive for listeria in later tests, the company recalled more than 20 deli meats and shut down its Toronto plant for sanitization.

CFIA says they may have some DNA fingerprint results Saturday (its not that hard, some kids figured out half the high-scale fish in New York was bogus). This outbreak is not an early warning system working, it’s a mess. At some point, the politicians and bureaucrats may realize that several people died and dozens are sick unnecessarily. The advice to pregnant women in Canada remains shamefully inadequate.