Recall of Silk and Great Value plant-based beverages linked to 9 cases of listeriosis in Ontario

Nine confirmed cases of listeriosis have been reported in Ontario as part of an ongoing investigation into recalled herbal refrigerated beverages, according to provincial health officials.

On Monday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced a recall of certain Silk and Great Value refrigerated oat and almond beverages that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said there have been five hospitalizations related to this outbreak investigation as of Monday.

Listeria monocytogenes is a type of bacteria that can cause listeriosis, a serious but rare illness with symptoms that can begin suddenly and include vomiting, nausea, cramps, severe headache, constipation, or fever. More severe illness can result in brain infection meningitis and blood infection in newborns and older adults.

In recent years there have been approximately 134 cases of invasive listeriosis have been reported annually in the country, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Of these, Public Health Ontario reported 75 cases in 2023, including 14 deaths.

The recalled products were manufactured by Danone Canada and distributed nationwide, the CFIA said.

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Stores across Canada are being told not to sell, serve or distribute alcohol 15 products of the brands Silk and Great Value. Anyone who has these products in their refrigerator should not consume or use them.

Below are the contaminated products listed, all in 1.89 liter containers with best before dates up to and including October 4, 2024, with specific universal product codes:

  • Great Value Almond Drink Unsweetened Original.
  • Great value for money Almond Drink Original.
  • Great Value Almond Drink Vanilla.
  • Silk Almond and Coconut Unsweetened.
  • Silk Almond Original.
  • Silk Almond Pure Chocolate.
  • Silk Almond Unsweetened.
  • Silk Almond Unsweetened Vanilla.
  • Silk Coconut Original.

Doctor advises caution for risk groups

“I strongly advise the public, especially those at high risk for listeriosis, such as the elderly, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems, to ensure they do not consume these recalled products,” Moore said in a press release.

Symptoms of invasive disease — when the bacteria spread beyond the intestines — typically begin within two weeks of eating food contaminated with Listeria, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can take as long as 70 days, according to Public Health Ontario.

Electron micrograph of a Listeria bacterium in tissue.
An electron micrograph of Listeria bacteria in tissue. The bacteria can withstand cold temperatures in a refrigerator. (Dr. Balasubr Swaminathan/Peggy Hayes/CDC)

Moore urged consumers to visit CFIAs website for a complete list of all recalled products and to check back regularly as additional recalls may occur as the investigation continues.

Consumers are reminded to check their refrigerators for the recalled products and if found, they should be immediately discarded or returned to the location where they were purchased. Do not consume recalled products.

Careful disinfection of plants necessary

According to Dr. Lori Burrows, professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences at McMaster University, one of the “nasty things about listeria” is that the bacteria is cold-resistant.

“Once the produce gets contaminated and it’s stored in your refrigerator, the bacteria don’t die,” she said. “They stay alive, and then when you drink it, they infect you.”

As Canada Research Chair in Microbe-Surface Interactions, Burrows studies the growth of bacteria, such as dental plaque.

“Imagine your teeth,” Burrows said. “You have bacteria on your teeth, and it’s almost impossible to remove them all. So we scrape them off with a toothbrush a few times a day, but they always grow back, right? And the same goes for these packaging lines and the tubing they use to move fluids from one place to another.”

Production and packaging facilities must be carefully disinfected, otherwise bacteria can build up, especially in cracks and crevices, she said.

Listeria contamination does not change the smell, taste or appearance of food.

Some foods with a higher risk include:

  • Chilled smoked fish.
  • Raw or unpasteurized milk.
  • Soft and unpasteurized cheeses.
  • Ready-made meats, such as pate, meats and hot dogs.

In this outbreak, a Danone Canada spokesperson said the contaminated products were linked to a specific production line at a third-party manufacturer in Ontario.

“We are deeply concerned about these reports and take this matter extremely seriously,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“We remain immediately focused on carefully protecting our consumers through this swift recall and conducting a thorough investigation with our third-party manufacturer.”

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