Bureaucrats blame and battle over Canadian listeria outbreak; still can’t answer basic questions

The feds failed miserably during the Aug. 2008 outbreak of listeria that claimed 21 lives across Canada but the province of Ontario handled the outbreak well and that, "compared to other outbreaks, experts will say this went amazingly fast.”

I have no idea who these experts are that Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, said would endorse the response to the outbreak other than other bureaucrats and politicians who were quick to praise themselves in the early days of the outbreak. And while media accounts are focusing on the bureaucrat blame game, they’re giving the Williams report little more that a fawning glance.

The good news is that the report has a basic timeline of who knew what when, at least from the perspective of Ontario bureaucrats.  By Aug. 1, 2008, the Ontario “Public Health Division identifies 16 cases of listeriosis in the month of July: the majority were in elderly people who had been in a long-term care home or hospital.”

By Aug. 4, 2008, the Listeria Reference Lab confirms that three food samples from Toronto long-term care home – all opened 1 kg packages of meat cold cuts – are positive for Listeria.

Yet the first public warning didn’t happen until the early hours of Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008.

This is the bad news. Other questions are simply ignored in the report — like what are long-term care facilities doing serving cold-cuts to the immunocompromised elderly? Should there be warning labels or additional information provided to others at risk, such as pregnant woman? Why aren’t listeria test results made public?

The report does say the medical officer of health for Canada was missing in action during the outbreak, and that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency hampered the overall investigation.