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Canada Kicks Off Genome Mapping of Listeria

Canada is kicking off a $600,000 project to map the genome of Listeria bacteria so that more rapid tests can be developed.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Genome Canada, and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions are teaming up to help protect consumers from the serious foodborne illness.

The 18-month research initiative is being funded with $250,000 each from Genome Canada and CFIA, and $100,000 from Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions.

Currently, it takes at least five days to confirm the presence of Listeria.  Genomic mapping could improve accuracy and cut the time it takes for both the government and industry to identify Listeria contamination.

In 2008, a Listeria outbreak caused by ready-to-eat meats produced by Maple Leaf Foods in Toronto killed 22 mostly elderly Canadians. The 40 percent fatality rate was among the highest ever experience in a foodborne illness outbreak anywhere in North America.

Since the deadly outbreak, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has launched many food safety initiatives, including all the recommendations made by an independent investigation into the Listeria outbreak.

“The Harper Government is committed to improving Canada’s already robust food safety system,” said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. “Through investments in science and innovation, we are giving industry the opportunity to better identify and reduce risks for consumers, meaning safer food for Canadian families.”

Listeria poises an unusual danger because it survives freezing, dehydration, and exposure to temperature regimes use to pasteurize food, all of which make timely detection of the dangerous bacteria all the more important.

CFIA is charged with safeguarding Canada’s food, including plant and animals. Genome Canada is a research agency for the genomic sciences. Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions is a publicly funded research corporation for creating new technologies and products.

Science and Technology Minister Gary Goodyear said the Listeria project shows the Harper Government is taking leadership in protecting Canada’s food supply.

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