38 sick, many pregnant in 2008 listeria in pasteurized cheese outbreak in Quebec; cross-contamination affected hundreds of retailers

Fall 2008 was a crappy time in Canada. While the Maple Leaf listeria-in-deli-meats outbreak would kill 23 and sicken 56, a listeria-in-cheese outbreak plagued Quebec (that’s in Canada, according to some), sickening lots, especially expectant mothers.

Amy was pregnant, heightening sensitivities.

At the time, public attention and concern in Quebec was far more focused on the plight of cheesemongers than the sick and several dead. Regulators took some tough steps to limit the outbreak but in a culture that values tradition, the Quebec Minister of Agriculture was forced to capitulate and change his tune from, "The province is not there to compensate. We aren’t an insurance company," to offering a three-year, $8.4-million aid package, along with $11.3-million in interest-free loans to Quebec’s small cheese producers and retailers less than three weeks later.

Government health-types in Quebec have now offered their version of events in the current issue of the Journal of Food Protection.

Although numbers of sick people were all over the place at the time, the researchers conclude there were 38 confirmed sick with the same strain of Listeria monocytogenes (LM P93) across Quebec from June through Dec. 2008, including 14 pregnant women and two babies born to asymptomatic mothers. There were two elderly deaths and three neonatal deaths.

The traceback of many brands of cheese that tested positive for LM P93 collected from retailers identified two cheese plants contaminated by L. monocytogenes strains on 3 and 4 September. PFGE profiles became available for both plants on 8 September, and confirmed that a single plant was associated with the outbreak. Products from these two plants were distributed to more than 300 retailers in the province, leading to extensive cross-contamination of retail stock.

So where is that local cheesemonger you know, trust and can look in the eye, getting their cheese from?

The abstract is below:

Widespread Listeriosis outbreak attributable to pasteurized cheese, which led to extensive cross-contamination affecting cheese retailers, Quebec, Canada, 2008
Journal of Food Protection®, Volume 75, Number 1, January 2012 , pp. 71-78(8)
Gaulin, Colette; Ramsay, Danielle; Bekal, Sadjia
A major Listeria monocytogenes outbreak occurred in the province of Quebec, Canada, in 2008, involving a strain of L. monocytogenes (LM P93) characterized by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and associated with the consumption of pasteurized milk cheese. This report describes the results of the ensuing investigation. All individuals affected with LM P93 across the province were interviewed with a standardized questionnaire. Microbiological and environmental investigations were conducted by the Quebec’s Food Inspection Branch of Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec among retailers and cheese plants involved in the outbreak. Between 8 June and 31 December 2008, 38 confirmed cases of LM P93 were reported to public health authorities, including 16 maternal-neonatal cases (14 pregnant women, and two babies born to asymptomatic mothers). The traceback of many brands of cheese that tested positive for LM P93 collected from retailers identified two cheese plants contaminated by L. monocytogenes strains on 3 and 4 September. PFGE profiles became available for both plants on 8 September, and confirmed that a single plant was associated with the outbreak. Products from these two plants were distributed to more than 300 retailers in the province, leading to extensive cross-contamination of retail stock. L. monocytogenes is ubiquitous, and contamination can occur subsequent to heat treatment, which usually precedes cheese production. Contaminated soft-textured cheese is particularly prone to bacterial growth. Ongoing regulatory and industry efforts are needed to decrease the presence of Listeria in foods, including pasteurized products. Retailers should be instructed about the risk of cross-contamination, even with soft pasteurized cheese and apply methods to avoid it.

Consumers beware; 1 sick with listeria from Quebec cheese or butter recalled a month ago but still on shelves

The sick person lede was buried, again, and I didn’t realize from a CFIA press release someone had gotten listerosis from eating Clic brand cheese and/or butter in Canada.

That’s how government types roll.

Worse, the expanded recall issued yesterday was a month after an initial limited recall, yet product was still sitting on shelves.

Canadian Food Safety Inspection Agency (CFIA) recall specialist Garfield Balsom told FoodQualityNews.com, “During a review of the company’s voluntary recall it was discovered that several products had been missed. The manufacturer has ceased production at its facilities and the CFIA working with them to make sure other products manufactured by the company are safe to consume.”

Did the one identified individual get sick from consuming Clic products that were previously recalled? In the original Nov. 11, 2011 recall notice, no one was sick.

The following cheese products, bearing establishment number 1874, and any Best Before dates up to and including those listed below, are affected by this alert:

Brand Product Size UPC Last Best Before date
Clic Moujadalé 300 – 400 g None 11 MAR 2012
Clic Riviera 300 – 400 g None 11 FEB 2012
Clic Tressé 300 – 400 g None 11 NOV 2012
Clic Vachekaval 300 – 400 g None 11 MAR 2012

The following dairy products bear establishment number 1874. These products have a four digit lot code. If the last 2 digits of the lot code are 45 or lower, e.g. xx-45, xx-44, etc, they are affected by this alert:

Brand Product Size UPC
Clic Desi Butter Ghee 454 g (1 lbs) None
Clic Desi Butter Ghee 907 g (2 lbs) None

These products have been distributed in Quebec and Ontario. These products may also have been distributed to other provinces.

Cyclospora associated with Mexican basil outbreak in Quebec, 2005

Milord et al write in the current issue of Epidemiology and Infection about an outbreak of Cyclospora cayetanensis amongst 250 patrons who ate at a Quebec restaurant in June 2005.

Cyclospora sp. was observed in the stools of 20 cases and 122 probable cases were identified.

Contaminated fresh basil originating from a Mexican farm, used to prepare an uncooked appetizer, was identified as the source.


Salmonella in spices again; paprika from Morocco recalled in Quebec; no one sick

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Alimentarus Import Export Inc. are warning the public and retailers not to sell, use or consume the Piment doux moulu (mild ground paprika) described below because the product may be contaminated with Salmonella.

The affected product, Dar Al Assala brand Piment doux moulu (mild ground paprika), imported from Morocco, was sold to various retail stores in Quebec as 5 kg bags bearing UPC 6 111242 541054, lot code PD17-F278 and best before date 05/10/2012.

This product is also known to have been sold from bulk. If you have purchased bulk paprika on or after November 12, 2010, and are unsure if you have the recalled product, check with your place of purchase to verify if it is subject to the recall.

This product is known to have been distributed in Quebec.

There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of this product.

Poopy nuts update; public health hopeless at straight talk

I generally buy walnuts in a plastic bag, already shelled. Once home, they go into a glass container where I’ll grab a few while puttering in the kitchen, or toss some on a salad, or into Amy’s oatmeal cookies or fiber-brownies (right, displayed this morning by daughter Sorenne).

When the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in walnuts was first announced, early on April 4, 2011, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said people were sick but wouldn’t say how many while fingering walnuts imported from California and imported by Amira Enterprises of St. Laurent, Quebec as the suspected source.

Later on April 4, 2011, the Public Health Agency of Canada issued its own statement, saying 13 were sick and that “consumers who have raw shelled walnuts in their home can reduce the risk of E. coli infection by roasting the walnuts prior to eating them. Consumers should place the nuts on a cooking sheet and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes, turning the nuts over once after five minutes.”

Sorenne won’t be doing that.

At the time I noted this advice does not account for the risk of cross-contamination with a virulent pathogen and that my microbiology friends look forward to testing it out.

On April 7, 2011, Quebec health types confirmed the death of one person linked to the walnuts and a spokesthingy said, "The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has serious doubts as to whether the infections are related to walnuts, but it’s the most probable source.”

(Are you getting a sense of how well single-food inspection agencies work?)

Late last night, PHAC issued another statement, saying there were 14 people sick in Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick, including 10 hospitalizations, 3 cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, and one death.

The PHAC statement emphatically states:

“If you have these products in your home, don’t consume them.”

But then goes on to less emphatically state,

“Until further notice, consumers who have raw shelled walnuts in their home can reduce the risk of E. coli infection by roasting the walnuts prior to eating them. Consumers should place the nuts on a cooking sheet and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes, turning the nuts over once after five minutes. Wash your hands and cooking utensils thoroughly after handling the walnuts.”

So PHAC added a washing recommendation in recognition of cross-contamination risks.

This is sorta hopeless. Throw any suspect walnuts out and don’t underestimate the risk of cross-contamination.

PHAC then ritually stated how people should cook meat to the proper internal temperature, wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them, clean counters and cutting boards and wash your hands regularly.

Sorenne wonders what this has to do with walnuts.

Public Health Agency of Canada, with all your salaries and collaborating bureaucrats, why are you so terrible at talking about food safety (see anything related to PHAC and listeria, 2008).

Consumers are not the critical control point (CCP) for walnuts sitting in a jar at home.

Walnuts suspected in Quebec E. coli death

Quebec’s Health Department confirmed Thursday that one person in the province has died of E. coli O157:H7 after possibly eating contaminated walnuts.

The person had pre-existing health problems, a ministry spokesperson told CBC News.

No other information about the individual was released.

So far, 13 cases of E. coli illness in Canada have been linked to contaminated walnuts distributed by Quebec-based Amira Enterprises.

Nine of the cases have been in Quebec. Two have been confirmed in Ontario along with two in New Brunswick.

Health Canada has been warning people to avoid eating shelled walnuts from bulk bins or certain brands, including Amira, Tia and Merit Selection (right, from CBC, delivery trucks parked outside the Montreal offices of Amira Enterprises).

There has been no additional information for three days. This is Canada, and what with their fourth federal election in seven years, expect the information to be flowing forward in super-duper slow motion.

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Beware the herbs: parsley positive for salmonella in Quebec

Thanks to Google Translate and my French professor partner, I can report the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ, that’s in Canada), along with the City of Montreal and Provigo, Loblaw group member, are warning the public not to consume fresh curly parsley purchased December 13, 2010 at the establishment located at 12780 Maxi Sherbrooke East, Montreal, because it could be contaminated with salmonella.

The Quebec releases are only available in the Quebec-version of French.

The product was sold in bundles, without packaging, at the facility mentioned above. No illnesses have been reported – yet.

People who have this food in their possession are advised not to eat it and return it to the store where they bought it or throw it away. Even if the product does not show evidence of tampering or suspicious odor, a microbiological investigation revealed the presence of Salmonella.

Albert Amgar: Mandatory training in food service?***

Our French colleague Albert writes recently on his blog,

I’m no expert on the commercial and institutional restaurant business, just a simple user.

I’m also not a fan of guides to good practices of which, in my opinion, we shouldn’t expect so much. The guide shouldn’t be a white cane for the blind when it comes to matters of hygiene and food safety. But I also know that some people have been waiting, according to a message published on la liste Hygiène on July 3, 2010, “…for at least 8 years, [for] the probable publication date of the Guide to Good Hygiene Practices for the food services industry.”

As such, le blog HysaConseil from Quebec tells us that, “Mandatory training in hygiene and safety, who does it concern?”

On November 21, 2008, a modification to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Québec’s (MAPAQ) food regulation requires all business owners who are or are not licensed with MAPAQ to undergo training in hygiene and safety. Whenever food handling is done in his/her business, the owner must comply with regulations (convenience stores, pharmacies, bars, bed & breakfasts, butcheries, supermarkets, selling meat on the farm, etc…).

You can refer to the available guide to the application of regulations on MAPAQ’s website for more information on this regulation. All information is found at this site.
At a time when France has launched its Food Operation Holidays (see “
The return of Operation Thunder”), here’s a measure that would be welcome for us! Is this obligation applicable for us? I don’t believe so according to certain reports we see (see “Hygiene in the food service industry”).

In the words of one AFSCA administrator (Belgium), “I currently use the carrot with the subcommittee on language simplification (referred to as cellule de vulgarisation). Now there is a stick behind the door: not only the administrative fines or the temporary closures, but we could also put the results of our inspections on the Internet, clearly online for the consumers.”

Mandatory training, scores or grades on the doors and online inspection results are the answers that Albert suggests to advance food safety in restaurant businesses.

Quebec cheesemakers complain about inspection, want taxpayers to pay for it

Being married to someone who teaches French can be useful when I run across a story that has listeria and fromage in it, but can’t make out anything else. Amy thought it was of interest so assigned it to her translation class.

In fall 2008, there was a couple of outbreaks of listeria in cheese in Quebec that led to 38 hospitalizations, of which 13 were pregnant and gave birth prematurely. Two adults died and there were 13 perinatal deaths.?

The Quebec government cracked down, especially on makers of cheese from raw milk.

Last week, Le Soleil reported the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPAQ) is ready to take on the costs of analysis of all artisanal cheeses for one more year in order to ensure they contain no pathogens.

The screening and prevention project was put in place for one year in October 2008 at the end of the listeria crisis. Every month, MAPAQ inspectors visited cheesemakers in order to detect the Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli, Salmonella, and Staphyloccocus aureus. The goal is to reassure consumers of the quality of Québécois cheeses and to guide cheesemakers towards self-testing. The bill was estimated at $1 million.

The artisanal cheesemakers have denounced the omnipresence of inspectors in their premises since the beginning of the listeria crisis, judging that inspectors don’t know their reality and are proving to be excessively zealous.

Listeria-laden cheese hospitalized 38, killed 15 in Quebec last fall; producers want compensation

Here is what is lost in the gushing about raw-milk cheeses and many other forms of food pornography:

The fall 2008 outbreak of listeria in cheese in Quebec led to 38 hospitalizations, of which 13 were pregnant and gave birth prematurely. Two adults died and there were 13 perinatal deaths.

But, the discussion in Montreal over the past two days is about the fate of small cheese producers, who are apparently giving up.

Ever since last year’s listeriosis outbreak, when provincial inspectors seized tonnes of Quebec cheeses believed to have been cross-contaminated by the listeria bacterium, Fromagerie Lehmann and other raw-milk cheese producers were visited constantly by officials on the lookout for the listeria bacterium.

Like 20 or so others, Lehmann finally gave up on raw-milk cheese altogether.

By some estimates, only 10 Quebec raw-milk cheeses remain. The others now are made with milk that’s been heated to kill unwanted bacteria – and, some say, the flavours of the meadow and the changing seasons.

On Monday, the provincial ombudsman concluded the Quebec government was ill-prepared to handle the outbreak of listeria contamination in some cheese products last summer, but it was right to order a mass recall of the cheeses.