By Jennifer Hoegg
Kings County Advertiser/Register
Have a Meadowbrook ham in your freezer? Better check the dates.
In a voluntary recall issued late in the evening April 20, Department of Agriculture and Meadowbrook Meat Market warned the public not to consume certain fully cooked, boneless hams because they may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. The particular strain of the common Listeria bacteria discovered in the product can cause the foodborne illness listeriosis
Margie Lamb, who owns the business with her husband Jim, said the recall was issued as soon as they knew of a potential problem.
“We’re based on making a safe product,” she said April 21. “It doesn’t fly very well if you don’t follow through on your beliefs.”
Lamb said the recall applies to approximately 40 hams with the best before dates of April 1 and April 3. Most were sold at the Berwick area store and the Alderney Landing Farm Market in Dartmouth.
Food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled, but the bacteria can live at fridge, even freezer, temperatures and can only be destroyed by high heat.
“When the testing went out there was no concern,” she said. “That’s why (results) didn’t come back quickly.
“We have taken all precautions and have taken a look at all aspects of production,” Lamb said.
Other products are being tested and the pre-cooked hams are not currently being sold, she added. The shop is being inspected, sanitized and tested to try to track down the source of the bacteria.
“We have ripped everything apart.”
Lamb said the response from customers has been positive so far.
“One lady said ‘we will be back, we trust you,’” she said. “We put this out because people do trust us. They trust us for a reason and if we didn’t make this voluntary disclosure why would they trust us?
“We hope that we can continue to be a service of people and we can build any trust back that people may have lost in us.”
Mike Horwich, director of food protection with the Department of Agriculture, said, as of April 21, the source of Listeria contamination in the Meadowbrook case is unknown.
“It’s difficult to track down,” he pointed out. “Listeria is a bacteria that is very, very common in the environment: it’s in water, it’s in soil, it’s naturally occurring in the world.
“If we can find the source, that’s tremendous,” Horwich said. “In the meantime, we stress the sanitization meant to remove the Listeria and other types of bacteria.”
Horwich said Listeria can be killed by heat treatment, but if meats are contaminated after cooking, the bacteria can thrive.
“That’s why there is such an issue with the products people don’t typically recook,” he said.
Listeria tests in food production are part of Canadian Food Inspection and Health Canada protocols Meadowbrook was following. Health Canada revised standards for testing in 2011, following the 2008 Maple Leaf tainted meat issues.
Listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea.
No one has reported illness from eating the Meadowbrook hams, but the illness can occur up to 70 days after consumption, Dr. Richard Gould, medical officer of health, said.
“Most people who would have consumed this ham would probably not have any problem,” he said. “It’s quite a rare event.”
So rare, less than one case of listeriosis is reported annually in Nova Scotia and the disease is usually minor.
“Listeria for most people doesn’t cause any real problem, you might get a slight flu like illness but it passes by quite quickly.”
However, seniors, small children, people with suppressed immune systems and pregnant woman are at higher risk from the opportunistic bacteria.
Gould said the illness would be easily recognizable in frail or ill individuals.
In pregnant women, listeriosis “can cause fetal infection and stillbirth or miscarriage,” he said, adding the newborn can be affected at birth, requiring antibiotic treatment.
“If a pregnant woman ate that particular ham it would be best for them to check with their physician,” Gould said.
For more information, consumers can call Margie Lamb, 680-0243.
To read more about Listeria, visit www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/concen/cause/listeriae.shtml