TORONTO - Loblaw and Siena Foods are facing a class-action lawsuit over the latest meat recall due to Listeria contamination.

The suit, filed Monday in Ottawa, states Siena was aware of the "potential toxicity" of several of its products but only chose to only inform distributors, putting customers at risk.

"Only after a government investigation conclusively suggested a link between the Listeria monocytogenes outbreak and Siena Foods Ltd. products did Siena Foods Ltd. expand its product recall," the suit alleges.

"The class members had never been warned of the toxic character of the products they purchased."

The suit also states that Loblaw (TSX:L), as the retailer, bears responsibility to ensure the product is fit for consumption.

One of the plaintiffs, Castro Pedro of Leamington, Ont., was diagnosed with Listeria meningitis after eating a variety of Siena meats, the suit alleges.

Pedro, 58, was in the intensive care unit for 16 days and in hospital for more than three weeks, the suit states.

"A proximate cause of a heart attack and stroke suffered by Castro Pedro was the listeriosis that flowed from eating the Siena meats, including ham and salami," it alleges.

The lead plaintiff, John Morgan of Toronto, purchased a Siena cooked ham last month and after eating it began to "experience sweating, backache, headache, vomiting and diarrhea," the suit states.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

Calls to Loblaw and Siena Foods were not immediately returned.

The suit is seeking $1 million in general damages and special damages in excess of $1 million for the class members, "or other such amounts" that the court finds appropriate.

Siena has recalled all affected products, including its cooked ham, which may have been distributed nationally.

The Ontario government said Monday that it had ruled out a connection between the deaths of five people from listeriosis and the recalled meat products from Siena Foods.

The Ministry of Health said there is no food consumption history or lab data supporting a link between the Siena products and the deaths.

Spokesman Andrew Morrison said the listeriosis strains involved in the five deaths have a separate DNA fingerprint from each other, indicating they did not come from the same source.

Out of 14 listeriosis cases reported since January, including the five deaths, only two appear to have come from Siena.

Morrison said those two people were hospitalized but are now both back at home.

Consumption of food tainted with Listeria can lead to high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea. The illness is a particular danger to pregnant women and their unborn children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease or AIDS.

Symptoms usually appear within two to 30 days, and up to 90 days after consuming contaminated food, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The average incubation period is about three weeks, says the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

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