Page last updated at 15:49 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 16:49 UK

Listeria fear after Canada deaths

Listeria monocytogenes bacteria
Canadian health officials expect the number of listeria cases to rise

Canadian health officials are investigating 12 deaths thought to be linked to contaminated meat products.

Six people are known to have died from the bacterial infection known as listeria, after eating tainted meat traced to a factory in Toronto.

A further six deaths are still under investigation.

Health officials have warned Canadians to stay alert because this type of food poisoning can occur up to 70 days after eating contaminated food.

Maple Leaf

"We fully expect that both the number of suspected and confirmed cases will increase as this investigation continues and samples continue to be tested", said the Agriculture and Food Minister, Gerry Ritz.

This week our best efforts failed and we are deeply sorry
Michael McCain CEO, Maple Leaf Foods

The deaths are amongst a total of 26 confirmed listeria cases diagnosed across Canada, according to the Canadian Public Health Agency.

The outbreak of listeria has been linked to meat products made by Maple Leaf Foods.

The company recalled 220 of its meat products - and all of the food products made at its factory in Toronto.

The company's Chief Executive Officer, Michael McCain issued an apology in newspaper and television advertisements.

"We have an unwavering commitment to keeping your food safe with standards well beyond regulatory requirements but this week our best efforts failed and we are deeply sorry," he said.

In a message on the company's website "on behalf of the 23,000 people of Maple Leaf Foods who live a culture of food safety", the food manufacturer offered its "deep and sincere sympathy to those who are ill, or who have lost loved ones".

Food contaminated with listeria may not look or smell as though anything is wrong with it.

However, eating infected meat can cause high fever, severe headaches, stiffness in the neck and nausea.

Elderly people and people with weak immune systems are particularly at risk, along with pregnant women, who may experience only mild, flu-like symptoms, but who are at risk of premature delivery and stillbirth.

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