2008 Canada listeriosis outbreak

The 2008 Canadian listeriosis outbreak was a widespread outbreak of listeriosis in Canada linked to cold cuts from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto, Ontario. There were 57 total confirmed cases, resulting in 22 deaths.[1]

2008 Canadian listeriosis outbreak
2008 listeriosis outbreak
A meat recall notice placed in the deli section of Sobeys grocery store
DateAugust 2008 to December 2008
Non-fatal injuries

Origin and spread

Listeria monocytogenes PHIL 2287 lores
Listeria monocytogenes, the bacterium responsible for listeriosis

Listeriosis is an infection caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. The outbreak originated from lines 8 and 9 of the Maple Leaf Foods Bartor Road facility (Establishment No. 97B) in North York, Ontario, a neighbourhood of Toronto. There were about 220 possibly contaminated products, each stamped with the code "97B" near the "Best before" date. Since the bacteria travelled through deli meats, which are cooked (and as a result are usually free of pathogens), the contamination likely occurred during packaging.[2] The outbreak was first noticed in July when regular surveillance detected an increase in cases reported.[3] Federal inspectors usually spent less than 5 hours a day at the plant in the months before the outbreak of the illness, sometimes as little as 70 minutes.[4]

Response from Maple Leaf Foods

Maple Leaf Foods had instituted a voluntary recall before the outbreak was linked to their plant; upon confirming the link, they expanded the recall to all products from the Bartor Road facility. In a press conference, President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods Michael McCain stated, "Tragically, our products have been linked to illness and loss of life. To those people who are ill, and to the families who have lost loved ones, I offer my deepest and sincerest sympathies. Words cannot begin to express our sadness for their pain."[5]

Officials from Maple Leaf believe that the outbreak originated sometime in July on line 8 or line 9 of the North York facility. Regardless, the entire plant underwent intense sanitation, which began August 21. About 80 workers were involved in the cleanup, with additional outside experts and microbiologists supervising the operation. They used peroxyacetic acid, quaternary ammonium compound, isopropyl alcohol, refrigeration gel and a granular compound to disinfect the parts of the apparatuses. About 600 employees were to attend a four-hour training session on Listeria and on cleanliness, and about 250 employees were laid off while the plant was being cleaned.[6]

The recall reportedly cost the company $20 million, about ten times the original estimate.[7]

Political responses

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty credited the discovery of the outbreak to an early-warning system implemented after the 2003 SARS outbreak in Toronto.[8] Canadian Health Minister Tony Clement stated that he expected the number of cases to rise with time, since the bacteria have a lengthy incubation period.[7] Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz stated at a news conference: "Let me state on behalf of the government that our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those that are affected [...] And of course, I'd like to reiterate that our highest priority continues to be making sure that Canadian families' food supply is safe."[9]

On the federal political level, there was a debate on the privatization of food inspection.[9] A cabinet document leaked earlier in the year outlined a plan to save money at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) by shifting federal meat inspectors into an oversight role and leaving companies to implement their own methods. Liberal leader Stéphane Dion was harshly critical and drew comparisons to the 2000 Walkerton tainted water tragedy and the privatization of propane inspection, which he blamed for the 2008 Toronto explosions. Gerry Ritz responded that the CFIA had added 200 inspectors since the Conservatives came to power, adding, "As opposed to having our inspectors standing line by line, they'll have a more oversight role within the plant itself [...] We're trying to build a better mousetrap here."[9] New Democratic Party agriculture critic Alex Atamanenko said he strongly opposed the apparent privatization plans.[9] The NDP claimed that policy changes first put in place by the Liberals and then continued under the Conservative government were to blame for the outbreak.

Gerry Ritz comments

On September 17, 2008, Agricultural Minister Gerry Ritz made national news when comments he made on an August 30, 2008 conference call with government officials were made public. Ritz was quoted as saying, "This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts." Then, when told of a death in Prince Edward Island, Ritz said, "Please tell me it's (Liberal MP) Wayne Easter." Ritz apologized for his remarks, but various groups called for his resignation. New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton responded by saying, "Canadians are dying because of the mismanagement of our government... there should absolutely never be that kind of humour.... It illustrates the government is not taking this matter as seriously as they should." A spokesman for Prime Minister Harper released a statement saying Ritz's comments were tasteless and completely inappropriate.[10] Stephen Harper refused to seek Ritz's resignation.[11]

Class-action lawsuits

Four separate class-action lawsuits were filed in Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. The lawsuit in Ontario claimed damages of $350 million.[12] All lawsuits were filed by Merchant Law Group.[13]

The lawsuits were settled in December 2008 for $27 million.[14]

All the cheques to claimants were mailed on the afternoon of February 3, 2012.

A court order for a "Pro Rata Reduction to all entitlements" was ordered, meaning that all claims were delivered at 93.04% of the original agreement. Claimants had until August 1, 2012 to cash their cheques.[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Weatherill, S. (2009). "Report of the Independent Investigator into the 2008 Listeriosis outbreak" (PDF). Government of Canada. p. vii. Retrieved 25 May 2016.
  2. ^ Picard, André (2008-08-26). "Q&A: Listeria". Toronto: The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 29 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
  3. ^ "Canada links Toronto plant to deadly listeriosis outbreak". CNN. 2008-08-24. Archived from the original on 27 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-24.
  4. ^ "Inspectors averaged 2 hours a day inside listeria-infected plant". CBC. 2009-06-11. Archived from the original on 12 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-11.
  5. ^ "Maple Leaf CEO Michael H. McCain Responds to Determination of Link to Plant". CNW Group. 2008-08-23. Archived from the original on 1 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-24.
  6. ^ Doolitte, Robyn (2008-08-22). "Cleansing begins at meat plant". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 24 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-24.
  7. ^ a b "More listeriosis cases expected; Maple Leaf Foods expands recall". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2008-08-25. Archived from the original on 6 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  8. ^ "McGuinty credits early warning system with catching listeriosis outbreak". Canadian Press. 2008-08-22. Archived from the original on 6 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  9. ^ a b c d Curry, Bill; Brodie Fenlon (2008-08-22). "Conservatives' pro-industry approach compromises food safety, Dion says". Toronto: The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 2 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  10. ^ "Ritz sorry for 'tasteless' Listeria comments". CTV News. 17 September 2008. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
  11. ^ Brian Laghi; Campbell Clark; Karen Howlett (2008-09-18). "Harper stands by Ritz despite 'tasteless' jokes". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. Archived from the original on 20 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-18.
  12. ^ Flavelle, Dana (2008-08-26). "Lawsuits filed over tainted meat". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  13. ^ "Maple Leaf Foods Class Action". Merchant Law Group. 2008-08-26. Archived from the original on 25 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  14. ^ "Maple Leaf settles class action listeriosis lawsuits for $27M". CBC. 2008-12-18. Archived from the original on 18 January 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
  15. ^ "Maple Leaf Foods Class Action Settlement". Merchant Law Group. 2011-11-08. Retrieved 2011-11-08.


External links

Food Safety News

Food Safety News is a news and campaigning website focusing on food safety. It was founded in 2009 by Bill Marler, a lawyer and food safety advocate. Marler is the Managing Partner of Marler Clark, a Seattle, Washington, law firm that specializes in foodborne illness cases. He said that Food Safety News was created to "fill a void" left by print and broadcast media as budgetary constraints led to "dedicated reporters on the food, health and safety beats... being reassigned or seeing their positions disappear altogether." The site provides daily news coverage of "foodborne illness outbreaks and investigations, food recalls, and how food safety fits into the local food movement."

Food safety in Australia

Food safety in Australia concerns the production, distribution, preparation, and storage of food in Australia to prevent foodborne illness. Food standards organisations such as Food Standards Australia New Zealand aims to specify food standards as well as a testing regime seek to ensure that the food Australians eat is safe for them.In recent years the quality and integrity of the food supply in Australia has been under observation. Incidents such as the contaminated frozen berries during the second half of 2014 and the rockmelon listeriosis outbreak in early 2018 saw a concern in particular for the health of mothers and the elderly due to the contaminants reportedly capable of causing listeria and cholera. Australia is following the international trend away from government oversight towards a focus on preventative measures taken by the food industry.

In comparison with other developed countries Australia has higher rates for many illnesses due to foodborne pathogens. This may be caused by greater ascertainment of cases, higher rates of detection and increased risk factors.

Food safety in New Zealand

Food safety in New Zealand is a concern by the general public and the Government takes measures to regulate it. The estimated cost to the country in 2009 of the six foodborne illnesses campylobacteriosis, salmonellosis, norovirus, yersiniosis, STEC and listeriosis was NZ$161 million.The Government launched an annual Foodsafe Week in 2007 to highlight food safety issues.

List of class-action lawsuits

This page has a list of lawsuits brought as class actions.

List of disasters in Canada by death toll

List of Canadian disasters by death toll is a list of major disasters (excluding acts of war) which occurred in Canada or involved Canadian citizens, in a definable incident, where the loss of life was 10 or more.

List of foodborne illness outbreaks

This is a list of foodborne illness outbreaks. A foodborne illness may be from an infectious disease, heavy metals, chemical contamination, or from natural toxins, such as those found in poisonous mushrooms.

List of foodborne illness outbreaks by death toll

This is a list of foodborne illness outbreaks by death toll, caused by infectious disease, heavy metals, chemical contamination, or from natural toxins, such as those found in poisonous mushrooms.


Listeria is a genus of bacteria that, until 1992, contained 10 known species, each containing two subspecies. As of 2019, 20 species were identified. Named after the British pioneer of sterile surgery Joseph Lister, the genus received its current name in 1940. Listeria species are Gram-positive, rod-shaped, and facultatively anaerobic, and do not produce endospores. The major human pathogen in the genus Listeria is L. monocytogenes. It is usually the causative agent of the relatively rare bacterial disease listeriosis, an infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacteria. Listeriosis can cause serious illness in pregnant women, newborns, adults with weakened immune systems and the elderly, and may cause gastroenteritis in others who have been severely infected.

Listeriosis is a serious disease for humans; the overt form of the disease has a case-fatality rate around 20%. The two main clinical manifestations are sepsis and meningitis. Meningitis is often complicated by encephalitis, when it is known as meningoencephalitis, a pathology that is unusual for bacterial infections. L. ivanovii is a pathogen of mammals, specifically ruminants, and has rarely caused listeriosis in humans. The incubation period can vary between three and 70 days.

Pure Food and Drug Act

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was the first of a series of significant consumer protection laws which was enacted by Congress in the 20th century and led to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration. Its main purpose was to ban foreign and interstate traffic in adulterated or mislabeled food and drug products, and it directed the U.S. Bureau of Chemistry to inspect products and refer offenders to prosecutors. It required that active ingredients be placed on the label of a drug’s packaging and that drugs could not fall below purity levels established by the United States Pharmacopeia or the National Formulary. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair with its graphic and revolting descriptions of unsanitary conditions and unscrupulous practices rampant in the meatpacking industry, was an inspirational piece that kept the public's attention on the important issue of unhygienic meat processing plants that later led to food inspection legislation. Sinclair quipped, "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach," as outraged readers demanded and got the pure food law.

Adulterants, food contaminants
Parasitic infections through food
Sugar substitutes
Toxins, poisons, environment pollution
Food contamination incidents
Regulation, standards, watchdogs

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