Listeria contamination deep inside two meat-slicing machines at a Toronto processing plant was the likely cause of the recent bacterial outbreak that killed at least 13 people. Maple Leaf Foods Inc. CEO Michael McCain said the Formax 180 slicers, on lines eight and nine of the company's plant on Bartor Road in Toronto, were regularly cleaned but that listeria had been found in parts of the machinery "well beyond the [manufacturer's]recommended sanitation process." The contamination was found only after the devices were completely disassembled. Mr. McCain cautioned that investigators looking for the cause of the outbreak were not 100-per-cent certain, but that "we believe this is the most likely source." The slicers, which are about four metres long and three metres tall, were completely cleaned after being dismantled, and Mr. McCain said similar measures would be taken with all of the company's slicing equipment. Maple Leaf operates 84 meat slicers in its factories, 14 of which are of the same model implicated in the listeria outbreak. He argued that despite the discovery of listeria inside the machinery, "it's not reasonable to expect that each piece of equipment has to be disassembled completely prior to use." When asked whether he thought the machines could have been cleaned more thoroughly, he replied, "We don't think so." But for now the company plans to do exactly that - by periodically taking apart all of its slicers - until it can come up with another solution. Meanwhile, Canada's food inspectors have warned consumers who shop in a grocery store serving a military base in Labrador that the outlet sold bologna that might be contaminated with the same strain of listeria that has claimed 13 lives across the country. The health hazard alert comes nearly two weeks after Maple Leaf Foods recalled more than 200 products over fears they could be tainted with listeria. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said yesterday that bologna available at the Canex supermarket in Happy Valley-Goose Bay was part of the Aug. 24 recall, and the store removed it from the shelves that day. However, consumers who bought the bologna before then would have no way of knowing that it is part of the recall because it is not stamped with 97B - the code that identifies the plant in Toronto that made the suspect products. Consumers could still have the bologna because it does not expire until Oct. 10. Brian Evans, executive vice-president of the CFIA, blamed the distributor that sold the bologna to Canex for the delay. Food inspectors at the agency became aware only recently that the bologna's "best before" date is not until next month, said Garfield Balsom, a spokesman for the agency. "We thought the distributor had figured this product was already expired, on Sept. 1, but it was an extended expiry date put on the bologna, so it sort of got missed," Mr. Balsom said. He said the alert is the latest in about 15 involving Maple Leaf products sold at fast-food restaurants and other retail outlets that are not packaged by the company. Al Durno, the town's manager, said he was not at all happy with the delay in informing the 9,000 residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. "It's a concern when it comes to people's health that people are not ensuring that it's done right," he said. The Canex grocery store bought the lunch meat in bulk from the Quebec distributor and packaged it under the name Canex Maple Leaf Bologna. But no one appears to have any of the symptoms associated with listeriosis, including the 75 military personnel and their families living on the Goose Bay Canadian Forces base, said Captain Tom Burkhart, a spokesman at National Defence. To date, Canada has 38 confirmed cases of listeriosis in five provinces. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz held a news conference yesterday to discuss the outbreak. The conference was rescheduled twice - on the second occasion, reporters received a notification of the new time after the time at which the conference was to begin. An audio recording of the news conference provided to The Globe and Mail indicates it lasted about seven minutes. "Our professionals are working to resolve this situation as quickly as possible," Mr. Ritz said. "We continue to scour the country to remove any remaining affected product, no matter how small." An official at the Public Health Agency of Canada said the worst of the outbreak appears to be over. However, because of the long incubation period of up to 70 days, officials say more cases could surface.
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