Listeria monocytogenes Food Safety Investigation Saputo Inc. Georgetown, ON, Establishment 1590

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is committed to the continued improvement of Canada's food safety system. The CFIA is also dedicated to reporting on food safety incidents that have caused serious illnesses in Canada or have otherwise significant interest to the Canadian public.

This report provides a summary of the CFIA's food safety investigation and recall activities in response to the listeriosis illnesses in Ontario associated with the consumption of Neilson brand chocolate milk produced by Saputo Inc., Est 1590 (Georgetown, ON). A total of 34 illnesses were identified as part of the outbreak.

Summary

From January to May 2016, Public Health Ontario (PHO), in collaboration with the CFIA and other provincial and federal partners, investigated a cluster of clinical cases of listeriosis. During this time, several foods of interest were investigated and tested by both the CFIA and PHO, but no source was identified.

In late May 2016, PHO identified Neilson brand chocolate milk as a possible link to the illnesses. Based on this information, the CFIA initiated a food safety investigation at the Saputo Georgetown facility and sampled milk products at retail to verify the possible link.

On June 3, 2016, the CFIA obtained a positive laboratory result for Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) from a sample of bagged Neilson brand chocolate milk collected at retail. This finding led to the recalls of one product on June 3, and an expanded recall on June 5, 2016 of all Neilson brand chocolate milk produced at the Saputo Georgetown facility with best before dates up to and including June 22, 2016.

The food safety investigation was concluded on July 28, 2016. All food safety concerns identified during the investigation have been corrected by Saputo Inc.

CFIA Activities

Investigation into the Saputo Georgetown facility

The CFIA, in collaboration with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), conducted focused inspection activities at the Saputo Georgetown facility; initially to investigate the possible link to illnesses, and subsequently to identify and address sources of L. monocytogenes contamination.

The investigation was initiated based on preliminary epidemiological information which identified Neilson brand chocolate milk as a likely source of illness. The investigation included:

  • The sampling and testing of milk products collected at retail by CFIA
  • The sampling and testing of environmental samples taken at the facility by CFIA
  • The extensive review of processing records and operating procedures, including:
    • Product and environmental sampling for L. monocytogenes conducted by the establishment;
    • Operating procedures and food safety controls;
    • Cleaning and sanitation practices; and
    • Equipment design.

Sampling and Recall Activities

As a result of the extensive retail sampling initiated by the CFIA, on June 3rd, a positive result for L. monocytogenes was obtained from a sample of Neilson brand 1% Partly Skimmed Chocolate Milk (4 Litre) with a best before date of June 01. Based on this finding, on that same day, Saputo Inc. initiated a voluntary recall of the affected milk product and ceased operation of the implicated processing line. The CFIA issued a Food Recall Warning to the public.

Based on additional information identified during CFIA's food safety investigation and on an epidemiological assessment report from PHO which identified Neilson brand chocolate milk as a "strong link" to the illnesses, Saputo Inc. expanded its voluntary recall on June 5, 2016 to include all Neilson brand chocolate milk with best before dates up to and including June 22, 2016 produced at their Georgetown facility. On June 5, 2016 the CFIA also issued an Updated Food Recall Warning to the public. Both recalls were posted on CFIA's Facebook page, Twitter and website and an email was sent to recall subscribers.

Recall verification checks were completed by the CFIA for both the initial and expanded recalls to ensure affected products were effectively removed from the marketplace.

In total, 228 samples, representing 554 units, were collected and tested by the CFIA over the period of May 30 to June 26, 2016. These samples consisted of environmental samples from the facility and product samples of white and chocolate milk products from retail.

L. monocytogenes was not detected in any of the white milk products collected and tested.

Findings

The root cause analysis took into consideration the food safety inspection findings, epidemiological evidence and laboratory results.

Additional genetic testing of the L. monocytogenes isolates from the chocolate milk confirmed a link with the outbreak strain; Neilson brand chocolate milk with best before dates up to and including June 22, 2016 from the Saputo Georgetown facility was determined to be the source of the outbreak.

Environmental sampling by the company and by CFIA confirmed the presence of the L. monocytogenes outbreak strain within the Saputo Georgetown facility on post pasteurization equipment used for chocolate milk, as well as on non-food contact surfaces. The equipment was subsequently replaced by the company. In addition, the CFIA identified deficiencies at the processing facility and requested Saputo Inc. to submit a Corrective Action Plan. The request comprised corrections to the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan, sanitation and maintenance practices, and monitoring procedures.

Follow-Up

Saputo Inc. made the required changes to the plant sanitation program, operating procedures and equipment design. All food safety concerns identified during the investigation were corrected. All other identified issues with no impact on food safety were also addressed within the required time frames.

The CFIA in consultation with OMAFRA permitted Saputo Inc. to resume normal operation of the chocolate milk line at their Georgetown facility on July 25, 2016.

The CFIA and OMAFRA continue to monitor the facility.

Related Public Alerts

2016-06-03 - Food Recall Warning - Neilson brand Partly Skimmed Chocolate Milk recalled due to Listeria monocytogenes

2016-06-05 - Updated Food Recall Warning - Neilson brand Partly Skimmed Chocolate Milk recalled due to Listeria monocytogenes

Additional Information

Fact sheet: Listeriosis (Listeria)

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