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Quebec ombudsman releases report on 2008 Listeria outbreak


Earlier this month, Raymonde Saint-Germain, Quebec’s ombudsman, delivered her assessment of how the province handled the 2008 listeriosis outbreak due to tainted cheese.

Tainted cheese led to 30 people falling ill and health officials believe it led to two deaths in the province.

Saint-Germain’s report says that last September, in order to end the outbreak, Quebec’s agriculture, food and fisheries ministry (MAPAQ), instituted a massive recall of cheese from two Quebec cheesemakers.

Shortly after that the ministry targeted 300 retailers and destroyed all recalled cheese as well as all other product likely to have come into contact with it.

This led many cheese producers and retailers to accuse the province of overreacting and many demanded compensation.

A FoodNavigator.com story says that some cheese producers will receive compensation because they were named and faced financial losses even though listeriosis was not found in their facilities.

Saint-Germain’s recommendations

Saint-Germain’s report justified some of the province’s actions and said it acted correctly in light of the information at its disposal. But the report also criticized some of its moves.

There were also several recommendations including:

• that the province’s health and social services ministry (MSSS) bolster its prevention strategies aimed at groups at risk

• that MAPAQ has guidelines or an action plan for emergencies and food crises in order to clearly set out the roles and responsibilities of all those involved

• that MAPAQ update its action plan for foodborne illnesses

• that MAPAQ apply its own intervention standards according to the type of product concerned, the appropriate class of recall and the recommended type of action

• that in concert with plant owners, MAPAQ set out guidelines to direct and regulate self-inspection measures implemented by milk processing plants

• that MSSS and MAPAQ each have a communications framework for emergencies and crises and that they work together on a crisis communications plan

• that MAPAQ evaluate all likely risks and in collaboration with cheesemakers, produce a best practices guide to preventing and managing listeria cross-contamination

The fate of raw-milk cheese

According to a story in the Montreal Gazette, many raw-milk cheese producers were visited regularly by inspectors until many gave up on making the product altogether.

The Gazette story went on to say that more than 20 raw-milk cheese producers have stopped making the cheeses and perhaps only 10 raw-milk cheeses remain.