Maple Leaf Takes Blame for Food Poisoning Outbreak

August 28, 2008

Maple Leaf Foods Inc’s chief executive said Wednesday his company was fully accountable for an outbreak of listeriosis food poisoning, which has been linked to the deaths of 15 people in Canada.

Michael McCain said food regulators or regulations were not to blame for the outbreak, saying there were “excellent” systems and processes in place. “The buck stops right here,” he said.

“We have excellent systems and process in place but this week it’s our best efforts that failed – not the regulators, not the Canadian food safety system,” he said. “I emphasize this is our accountability and it’s ours to fix, which we are taking on fully.”

Samples of two Maple Leaf deli meats tested positive for the same strain of listeria bacteria that has made dozens of Canadians sick, including 15 people who have since died.

The company, which faces a series of class action suits, has recalled all products made at the plant as a precaution, pulling about 220 products from nursing homes, hospitals, restaurants and stores in one of Canada’s biggest-ever food recalls.

McCain said he did not know when the company would reopen the Toronto meat plant where the deli meats were made.

Third-party experts were examining the plant to find the root cause of the contamination, which McCain said might not be possible to determine. The plant will not reopen until that investigation is complete, he said.

Maple Leaf shares were up 4.4 percent at C$8.34 in trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange Wednesday, but have lost more than 20 percent of their value since the recalls began.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr and Roberta Rampton)

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