5 hospitalized after Silk, Great Value product recall in Canada: Listeria symptoms, prevention tips & more to know

An infectious disease specialist says products contaminated by listeria may not appear spoiled, but can cause a severe infection.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Foodborne Illness and Stomach Pains or stomachache with a painful digestive system ache as an abdominal illness or stomach infection with 3D illustration elements.
How do you know if you've become sick from listeria? We asked an expert. (Image via Getty Images)

Five Canadians have been hospitalized with the foodborne illness listeriosis after a recall of plant-based milks, the Ontario Ministry of Health confirmed in a statement on Tuesday. The statement also indicated there have been have been nine confirmed cases of listeriosis reported in Ontario associated with the ongoing outbreak investigation.

On Monday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has issued a recall of 18 plant-based refrigerated beverages by Silk and Great Value brand due to listeria concerns. The Canada-wide recall applies to various sizes of Great Value products with all best before dates of up to and including Oct. 4, 2024:

  • Almond Beverage Unsweetened Original

  • Almond Beverage Original

  • Almond Beverage Vanilla

Silk products (various sizes) with all best before dates of up to and including Oct. 4, 2024:

  • Almond Original

  • Almond Dark Chocolate

  • Almond Unsweetened

  • Almond Vanilla and Unsweetened Vanilla

  • Coconut Original and Coconut Unsweetened

  • Oat Original

  • Oat Vanilla

  • Oat Dark Chocolate

  • Oat Unsweetened and Unsweetened Vanilla

  • Almond & Cashew Unsweetened and Unsweetened Vanilla


A complete list of products, product codes and best before dates included in the recall are available on the CFIA website.

According to the CFIA, recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the location where they were purchased. Anyone who thinks they may have become sick from a recalled product is encouraged to visit their healthcare provider.

What exactly is listeria? Here's what you need to know —and symptoms of listeria to look out for.

Bacterial culture plate examination by a female researcher in microbiology laboratory. Unlike many bacteria, listeria grows very well in refrigerated environments. (Getty)
Unlike many bacteria, listeria grows very well in refrigerated environments. (Getty)

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the Toronto General Hospital, described listeria as a type of bacteria that can infect people when they consume contaminated food.

"It's usually associated with specific types of food," said Bogoch in a September 2023 interview. "It's just more common in some foods than others. But it's sadly not uncommon to hear about listeria outbreaks from time to time."

He said listeria can be found in:

  • Cold cuts, deli meats and hot dogs

  • Pasteurized or unpasteurized milk products

  • Store-made salads

  • Occasionally, in fruits and vegetables

"The interesting thing about listeria is that, normally when you put something in the refrigerator, it usually would suppress bacterial growth, but listeria actually grows very well in refrigerated environments," Bogoch explained.

mid adult woman clutches stomach while lying down on couch
Symptoms of listeria illness can include gastrointestinal symptoms and a fever. (Getty)

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said food contaminated with listeria may not look or smell spoiled, but can still make people sick.

According to public health, symptoms of listeria can start as early as three days after eating contaminated food.

A lot of people probably had listeria and did not even know it.Dr. Isaac Bogoch

The symptoms can include the following:

  • Fever

  • Nausea

  • Cramps

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Headache

  • Constipation

  • Muscle aches

"Most people who get listeria are going to have diarrhea and gastrointestinal symptoms. It's going to go away on its own. They don't even require antibiotics. ... And a lot of people probably had listeria and did not even know it," said Bogoch.

Pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk for severe illness from listeria, according to Bogoch.

"Those individuals are at risk of what we call invasive listeriosis," said Bogoch. "And that means it can cause a bloodstream infection. ... it can be very serious."

Book with title Listeriosis on a table.
Severe illness from listeria is called invasive listeriosis. (Getty)

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), invasive listeriosis is characterized by "severe symptoms and a high mortality rate (20 to 30 per cent)."

The symptoms include:

  • Fever

  • Myalgia (muscle pain)

  • Septicemia (blood poisoning)

  • Meningitis (inflammation of brain and spinal cord tissues)

"The incubation period is usually one to two weeks but can vary between a few days and up to 90 days," WHO explained.

The infection in pregnant women may also lead to premature delivery, infection of the newborn or even stillbirth.

However, Bogoch said listeria is generally not difficult to treat and people who do end up hospitalized will get antibiotic therapy.

"The key is prevention," he added, "to ensure that people are aware of what product is involved so they can avoid it ... and if people do have risk factors for a severe infection and they have symptoms of infection, to ensure that there is rapid access to care and they start treatment."

Cooking meet and other foods is one way to prevent consuming contaminated food. (Getty)
Cooking meet and other foods is one way to prevent consuming contaminated food. (Getty)

Bogoch said food contaminated with listeria is beyond an individual's control and it has to do with how the food was processed before it reached the consumer. But, there are still ways to prevent infection.

"People can cook their meat. ... The bacteria would not survive if you cooked a hot dog," said Bogoch.

Health Canada said "foods that are contaminated with the listeria bacteria will look, smell and taste normal."

The bacteria would not survive if you cooked a hot dog.Dr. Isaac Bogoch

This is why people at high risk for severe illness should avoid eating deli meats unless they are dried and salted, or heated until steaming hot. Additionally, they should avoid pâté and meat spreads unless they are frozen, canned or shelf-stable.

To lower the risk of infection, Bogoch also recommended people avoid unpasteurized dairy products, which Health Canada said includes soft and semi-soft cheese such as brie, camembert and blue-veined cheese.

"People can still get listeria through pasteurized products ... but unpasteurized products carry a higher risk," Bogoch said.

Fruits and vegetables should also be washed thoroughly, the doctor concluded.

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