National News

Ontario reports 9 cases of listeriosis in outbreak linked to plant-based milk recall

By The Canadian Press

Published 11:55 PDT, Tue July 9, 2024

Last Updated: 2:49 PDT, Tue July 9, 2024

Nine people in Ontario have become sick with listeriosis and five have been hospitalized in an outbreak that triggered a national recall of certain plant-based milks, the province's top doctor said on Tuesday. 

While the cases reported so far are all in Ontario, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is urging people across the country not to drink refrigerated Silk oat, almond, coconut or almond and cashew milk and Great Value almond milk with expiry dates up to and including Oct. 4., as they could be contaminated with Listeria bacteria.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said people should check their fridges for the recalled products and immediately throw them out or return them to where they were purchased.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says products contaminated with Listeria may not look or smell spoiled but can still make you sick.

Listeriosis is "not an uncommon infection" and people get it when the Listeria bacteria contaminates food that doesn't require cooking, such as lunch meats, Lori Burrows, a microbiologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, said in an interview.  

It's "more unusual" to get Listeria contamination in plant-based milks, said Burrows, who is the Canada Research Chair in microbe-surface interactions.

Burrows said it's unlikely that Listeria was on the raw ingredients in the milks. 

"It usually contaminates the food at the processing plant — so either while it's being processed or packaged," she said.  

In this case, Burrows suspects there may have been Listeria in the factory lines that pipe the milk from one place to another.

Listeria is also "very tolerant of cold," she said, so refrigeration doesn't kill the bacteria. 

Symptoms of listeriosis can include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache and neck stiffness. 

Pregnant women may only have mild, flu-like symptoms but listeriosis can still lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn or stillbirth, the recall notice says. 

If women are concerned they may have had some of the affected plant-based milk, they should talk to a doctor, Burrows said. 

Listeriosis can also be deadly, as it was in the widespread 2008 outbreak linked to cold cuts from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto. 

"I strongly advise the public, especially those at high risk for listeriosis, such as the elderly, pregnant women and those with weak immune systems, to make sure they do not consume these recalled products," Moore said in a statement. 

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– Nicole Ireland, The Canadian Press

With files from Sonja Puzic

Canadian Press health coverage receives support through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. CP is solely responsible for this content.

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