Following six “intensive sanitizations” to wipe out any trace of listeria, Maple Leaf Foods is restarting production at its Bartor Road meat processing plant in Toronto.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said Wednesday it has allowed Maple Leaf to start “limited production” so it can assess and verify the new processes put in place to help prevent any further contamination.
The plant has been connected to an outbreak of a specific strain of listeriosis, which as of Tuesday is confirmed to have sickened 47 people in seven provinces, mostly in Ontario.
Among those confirmed cases, 24 people have died and 16 of those deaths were found to be due or partly due to listeriosis, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported.
Maple Leaf shut down the plant on Aug. 20 and recalled all 191 products made there from Jan. 1, 2008 onward. However, the company has said its testing of recalled products shows no contamination in any products other than the three made on the two processing lines where contamination is believed to have taken place.
By “limited production,” CFIA means it will allow limited trial runs for a three-day period where product will be held and tested each day.
Production will stop until test results come back, CFIA said, and only if results are negative, and all controls found to be implemented, will the company resume “broader” production. For the following six weeks all product will be held and tested in lots and only released if negative test results are received.
Listeria monocytogenes, which causes listeriosis infections, is a naturally occurring bacteria that cannot be completely eliminated from the environment, CFIA said in a statement Wednesday. “What is important is that surfaces in direct contact with product, such as slicers, must be 100 per cent free of contamination.”
Maple Leaf said Sept. 5 that external and company experts have concluded the “most likely” source of contamination was a possible collection point for bacteria “deep inside the mechanical operations” of two specific meat slicing machines, beyond the reach of previously recommended sanitizing procedures.
Slicing equipment at the Bartor Road plant has been “completely disassembled and deep cleaned
and tested multiple times,” Maple Leaf said in a statement Wednesday, adding that it now disassembles all slicing equipment in all its facilities before daily cleaning.
The company said the results of over 1,200 swab tests for listeria from various points on all production lines and throughout the plant verify that the six complete sanitizings have been effective.
“While we have always practiced the highest level of vigilance, we are implementing even more rigorous food safety standards going forward, which are best practice in Canada and the industry,” Maple Leaf CEO Michael McCain said in a release Wednesday.