Pregnant women, people with immune deficiencies urged to be careful
Published in the Edmonton Journal, Aug. 26, 2008
Some Edmonton diners remained true to their ham-and-cheese lunches Monday, even as 25 more products were added to the list of over 200 Maple Leaf meats that could be contaminated with a potentially deadly bacteria.
“It’s like an airline, it’s safest after the crash,” Uwe Neuman said as he bit into the layers of deli meat stacked on his Italian press sandwich from Sobeys.
Reactions were mixed as consumers waded through a host of recall information after 25 varieties of pre-made sandwiches joined the list of Maple Leaf meat products that may have been exposed to listeria in a Toronto plant.
The bacteria can cause listeriosis, which Health Canada says begins with food-poisoning-like symptoms but can develop into blood poisoning and a brain infection, either of which can be fatal.
Six deaths in Ontario and one in British Columbia have been linked to the bacteria. Another five deaths in Ontario are under investigation. Five cases of listeriosis in Alberta this year are being tested for links to the bacteria in the Maple Leaf plant.
The recall began Aug. 19 with 23 products and was expanded to include 220 products. The latest recall involves sandwiches packaged by Lucerne Foods in Calgary and sold at Safeway and Mac’s stores in Alberta.
The Lumberjack, a blend of deli meats on an entire loaf of french bread, was one of 12 pre-made sandwiches recalled from Safeway stores.
Safeway spokesman David Ryzebol said the company was notified of the recall Monday morning before stores opened.
“As soon as we found out there was an expanded recall, we took all of them off the shelves, so none of them should have been sold,” Ryzebol said. “There would have been no opportunity for people to purchase them today.”
The sandwiches were being remade and should have been back in coolers by Monday afternoon, he said.
Sobeys’ spokesman Mike Lupien said his company’s stores usually carry 64 Maple Leaf products, all of which have been removed from shelves.
It’s still too early to tell if Sobey’s will see a drop in other deli meat sales due to these recalls, he said.
“When you see this big list of items, you are getting some customers who are concerned,” Lupien said.
While Maple Leaf announced Monday that the recall will cost the company $20 million, some smaller butchers in Edmonton say the recall may actually help them increase sales.
At Acme Meat Market in Ritchie, owner Corey Meyer said business hasn’t slowed down at all. He attributes the consumer confidence to the fact that he only stocks deli meats from Freybe, a distributor based in Langley, B.C.
“Most of our customers are repeat customers and they know we only have Freybe meat,” Meyer said. “In my opinion, I think it’s a superior product.”
During her lunch break Monday afternoon, Dejana Alajbeg said the recalls have prompted her to change her eating habits.
“I had some hotdogs in my fridge the other day, and I tossed them out,” she said. Alajbeg said she also stopped buying processed deli meats except for those from smaller specialty stores where most of the meats are imported and she can be sure of the quality.
Despite the recalls, there’s no need to swear off deli meats, Alberta’s chief acting medical officer of health said at a Monday news conference.
While “high risk” people, such as pregnant women or people with immune deficiencies should be cautious, he said the average Albertan has little cause for concern.
“(Maple Leaf Consumer Foods) made that decision to try and be as responsible as possible … they didn’t make the recall on all the products based upon the fact that they were contaminated,” Dr. Gerry Predy said. “For otherwise healthy people, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about.”
There are usually a handful of isolated listeriosis cases in Canada each year and it is extremely rare for Listeria to be tied to a specific food product, said University of Alberta microbiologist and professor Lynn McMullen.
The last big food-linked outbreak of listeriosis in Canada was in 1981 and was tied to tainted coleslaw made from cabbages fertilized with contaminated sheep manure, she said.
When there is an outbreak the mortality rate is high, between 20 and 30 per cent.
The thing that makes Listeria particularly nasty is that it can live and grow on refrigerated food, unlike E. coli and salmonella, which are killed by cold, McMullen said.
“When we’ve got long storage lives, which we have with processed meat products, and it gets in there, it can grow,” McMullen said. “This organism will not survive cooking, so somehow it got on those products after they were cooked.”
With files from Jennifer Yang and the Financial Post