Sunday Supplement: Canada’s Listeria outbreak. A study in opacity

Canada is experiencing an outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes illnesses, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

Unfortunately, no one is prepared to reveal to the public how many people have been infected, how serious are the symptoms, or how widespread the outbreak is.

Here is what we know

  1. On January 14, 2023, Le Fromage au Village Inc. (Lorrainville, Québec) recalled five date codes of Le Cendré de Notre-Dame brand Semi-soft Surface-ripened Cheese due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination. There was no indication of any illnesses associated with this recall.
  2. On January 19, 2023, just five days later, Le Fromage au Village Inc. recalled multiple lot codes of four different cheeses, again due to Listeria monocytogenes contamination. This time, the recall notice indicated that reported illnesses “may be associated with the consumption of these products.”
  3. On January 20, 2023, the CFIA suspended the company’s Safe Food For Canadians licence (Licence #9DM4P9DP), citing the “…absence of adequate corrective measures to prevent the risk of Listeria monocytogenes contamination.” The suspension, which was announced to the public on February 3, 2023 will remain in effect until the CFIA is satisfied that the company has taken appropriate corrective measures.
  4. On February 11/12, February 14, February 15, and February 18, the CFIA announced additional recalls associated with the same investigation.

A search for answers

In response to our request for additional information on the status of its investigation, a CFIA spokesperson referred eFoodAlert to the published recall notices and suggested that we contact the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (MSSS) du Québec (the Québec Ministry of Health and Social Services).

The Public Health Agency of Canada also referred us to the Québec health authorities.

The MSSS referred us to the Public Health directorate for the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Québec. This region of northwestern Québec is the home of Le Fromage au Village Inc., the manufacturer of the recalled cheese. The MSSS spokesperson also suggested we contact the province’s Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation (MAPAQ), the Québec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The Abitibi-Témiscamingue public health spokesperson declined to answer any of our questions, even refusing to reveal how many people have been confirmed or are suspected to be part of the outbreak. The spokesperson cited reasons of confidentiality for the refusal.

As of today, eFoodAlert has not received any reply from MAPAQ.

The bottom line

Even though the recalled cheeses were distributed in Québec, Ontario, and online, it would appear that this outbreak is limited to the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of the province of Québec.

We don’t know how many people have been infected.

We don’t know how long ago the outbreak began.

We don’t know how many people (if any) have been hospitalized, whether any pregnant women were infected, or whether there were any deaths.

The good news is that the operations of Le Fromage au Village Inc. have been shut down until the company has cleaned up its act.

The bad news is that the health authorities in the province of Québec have chosen to keep its citizens in the dark.

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