Public was never told: 4 dead, 30 sickened from Listeria in pasteurized chocolate milk in Ontario, Nov. 2015—June 2016
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) really sucks at this communication thing. They sucked during the 2008 Listeria outbreak linked to Maple Leaf cold cuts that killed 24 and sickened a further 33, they have always sucked when discussing numerous outbreaks of Cyclospra, and I guess they realized they suck so bad they didn’t even try during an outbreak spanning 2015-2016 linked to Listeria in milk.
Now, over three years since residents of Ontario (that’s in Canada) began reporting illnesses from Listeria in pasteurized chocolate milk produced at a dairy in Georgetown, Ontario, investigators have gotten around to saying just how many people got sick.
According to health-types writing in Emerging Infectious Disease, 11 case-patients had an onset date during November 14, 2015–February 14, 2016. Onset dates ranged from April 11 to June 20, 2016, for 21 case-patients in the second wave; the remaining 2 case-patients were outliers. Median age was 73 years (range 34 case-patients. It is possible that a lower number of case-patients were reported because chocolate milk may primarily be consumed by younger, healthier persons, in whom invasive listeriosis is less likely to develop. Another possible explanation is that the contamination in the milk appeared to be intermittent, with some samples testing positive while others tested negative. As such, careful attention should be given to equipment design and maintenance programs, as harborage sites could result in recurring contamination that goes undetected by routine monitoring. Targeted retail and environmental sampling was instrumental in identifiying the root cause in the facility and the breadth of potentially implicated products in the marketplace. Thus, this type of sampling should be considered during outbreak investigations.
Ultimately, the implicated product was determined on the basis of testing of food items obtained from the home of 1 case-patient. This finding highlights the necessity of obtaining a thorough food history and collecting and testing available samples of food that case-patients consumed during the incubation period. In Canada, where bagged milk is common, labeling of the inner and outer bags with the brand name would facilitate product identification by consumers. This recommendation could extend to other food products in North America (e.g., frozen hamburger patties) that have multiple layers of packaging.
That is a lucid, thought provoking summary of a complex foodborne outbreak, fraught with uncertainties.
When the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced the recall on June 4, 2016, Chapman wrote it up for the blog, reminiscing about his childhood innocence in southern Ontario, and noted, as has become the pattern, that CFIA reports recalls, but it’s up to PHAC or provincial health ministries to identify the number of sick people. As far as I can tell, no public statement about illnesses was ever made, until now.
What the fuck do these people do, especially the communication hacks? Do they have a responsibility to the public? Why didn’t epidemiology count and a public warning issued rather than waiting for a positive sample in an unopened package, which has apparently become the Canadian standard for going public?
If that’s the standard, that sucks.
Listeria monocytogenes associated with pasteurized chocolate milk, Ontario, Canada
Emerging Infectious Diseases vol. 25 no. 3
Heather Hanson , Yvonne Whitfield, Christina Lee, Tina Badiani, Carolyn Minielly, Jillian Fenik, Tony Makrostergios, Christine Kopko, Anna Majury, Elizabeth Hillyer, Lisa Fortuna, Anne Maki, Allana Murphy, Marina Lombos, Sandra Zittermann, Yang Yu, Kristin Hill, Adrienne Kong, Davendra Sharma, and Bryna Warshawsky
In an investigation of a listeriosis outbreak in Ontario, Canada, during November 2015–June 2016, Public Health Ontario identified pasteurized chocolate milk as the source. Because listeriosis outbreaks associated with pasteurized milk are rare in North America, these findings highlight that dairy products can be contaminated after pasteurization.