ONTARIO: Federal officials, Maple Leaf Foods broached listeria before
OTTAWA -- Contrary to earlier claims, the subject of Listeria was
broached by federal officials and Maple Leaf Foods prior to a deadly
outbreak last summer that was linked to tainted meat products, documents
Handwritten notes from a July 24, 2008, meeting indicate officials from
the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Maple Leaf discussed "food
safety in relation to Listeria," although no details about the substance
of the talks were available.
The discussion took place roughly two weeks before tests linked the
company's luncheon meats to the outbreak.
Both sides had previously denied that the subject of Listeria came up at
the meeting. Yesterday, they acknowledged that it did come up, but said
earlier denials were made in reference to discussion of the listeriosis
Initially, they said CFIA executive vice-president Brian Evans and Maple
Leaf executive Rory McAlpine discussed only the company's hog and pork
operations and trade issues.
But notes from the July meeting, obtained by The Canadian Press under
the Access to Information Act, show that while Mr. Evans and Mr.
McAlpine did talk about hog and pork operations, they also discussed
"food safety in relation to Listeria."
Further information is blanked out in the documents released by the
CFIA spokesman Tim O'Connor said yesterday the July 24 discussion had
nothing to do with Canada's listeriosis outbreak, but was trade related.
"(Listeria) was discussed with respect to how changes in domestic
requirements have an impact on imports," he said.
In a statement yesterday, Mr. Evans said there was "absolutely no
discussion" during the meeting about Listeria being linked to one of
Maple Leaf's Toronto processing plants.
"Discussions focused on ensuring consistency of import monitoring with
other jurisdictions for microbial pathogens, including Listeria," he
"As the executive vice-president of CFIA, I have had countless
conversations about Listeria and microbial control with industry. This
kind of general conversation about food safety is par for the course
during meetings with industry."
Mr. McAlpine said yesterday he and Mr. Evans talked about U.S. standards
and testing affecting the company's exports.
The CFIA and Maple Leaf now say they initially denied Listeria came up
at the July meeting because it was not mentioned in the context of
Canada's outbreak, which at that date had yet to be confirmed by lab
Food samples from the nursing home reached Health Canada labs for
testing on July 24 -- the same day Mr. McAlpine met Mr. Evans.
The lab results came back Aug. 5 showing the samples had tested positive
for Listeria. The CFIA went back to the nursing home the following day
to collect more meat and cheese samples for further testing.
The food inspection agency notified Maple Leaf on Aug. 12 that an
investigation had been initiated, company spokeswoman Linda Smith said.
The next day, Maple Leaf sent a letter to distributors telling them
about the investigation. That was followed by a recall on Aug. 17 of its
luncheon meats, which was later expanded.
The death toll began to soar in late August. In all, at least 20 people
died of listeriosis from consuming contaminated meat.