Listeria fears prompt Maple Leaf Foods wiener recall

by Bryan Salvage
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TORONTO — Maple Leaf Foods is initiating a recall of nine wiener products produced under the Hygrade, Shopsy's and Maple Leaf brands at its plant in Hamilton, Ontario, that may contain traces of Listeria monocytogenes.

"This is a precautionary measure only," the company stated in a news release. "The company is 100% in compliance with the Government of Canada's new Listeria policy. The Public Health Agency of Canada has confirmed that there have been no reported illnesses related to these products."

After last August's tragedy, Maple Leaf is being ultra-cautious about Listeria, said Dr. Randall Huffman, chief food-safety officer for Maple Leaf Foods. "The Hamilton plant has a very strong food-safety testing and sanitation program, and the Listeria monocytogenes found in random product samples is at very low levels," he added. "Listeria exists in all food plants and many consumer fridges. It is commonly found in the environment and one in 200 packages of all meat and poultry products in the marketplace will likely contain Listeria monocytogenes, even higher in other ready-to-eat foods. We take whatever steps we can to be cautious when we know specific lots that may be exposed, as a precautionary step."

Listeria can never be eliminated, but it can be effectively controlled, Mr. Huffman said. "Maple Leaf is doing more aggressive and frequent Listeria testing at our plants than regulations require, and that means we're finding it more and acting whenever there is a potential and even remote food-safety risk," he added.

Maple Leaf has built a safety net of hold-and-test quarantine procedures. However, the effectiveness of product quarantine depends on rapid-testing methods, which the government has not yet approved, the company stated. The products in question were produced during a period when test results were not yet available due to the excessively long lead time of current government-approved testing methods.

"We urge the Canadian government to approve commercially proven, in-plant rapid-testing methods, which are now widely in use in the U.S. and Europe, and Maple Leaf will immediately implement this technology at all our prepared meat plants to improve the effectiveness of our quarantine procedures," the company stated.

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