TORONTO – Meat tainted with deadly bacteria in a Toronto processing plant is likely to sicken more people in the coming months, a Canadian health expert said Tuesday, a day after the government announced the death toll from the outbreak had risen to 12.

Test results announced over the weekend linked the outbreak to ready-to-eat meat tainted with the Listeria bacterium. Maple Leaf Foods has recalled 220 forms of meat products, including bologna, turkey, ham and other products – all produced at one Toronto plant.

Linda Corso, spokeswoman for the Food Safety Network, told The Associated Press that listeriosis has an incubation period of up to 90 days, meaning people may become ill in the next three months from eating meat prior to the recall – or after if they aren’t aware of the recall.

“Food can look, taste and smell normal, so you won’t know the infection is there weeks after you purchased the contaminated products,” she said. “We also don’t know the extent of the outbreak yet and it’s really too soon to know now. That, coupled with the long incubation period makes this outbreak very concerning.”

Corso’s warning echoed concerns from Health Minister Tony Clement, who said Monday that the ministry expects “both the numbers of suspected cases and confirmed cases will increase as this investigation continues.”

Listeriosis is a type of food poisoning that can be dangerous to the elderly, newborns, pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions. Symptoms include fever, headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

Public health officials said Monday the death toll from the outbreak had risen to 12 after the government changed its definition of deaths associated with the infection. Officials said they are now including those who died with listeria in their system, even if it was not the confirmed cause of death.

Health officials in Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan announced Tuesday that three more confirmed listeriosis cases had brought the total of cases definitively linked to the outbreak to 29.

The outbreak prompted Prime Minister Stephen Harper to call Tuesday for a review of the country’s food inspection practices.

Maple Leaf Foods has yet to pinpoint exactly how the contamination took place, but says the problem was isolated to the one Toronto plant and none of its other 22 processing plants nationwide were affected.


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