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Co. Recalls 27M Pounds of Meat

Oct 14, 2002 | AP

Poultry processor Pilgrim's Pride is recalling 27.4 million pounds of cooked sandwich meat after warnings of possible contamination from the listeria bacteria, the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

The company recalled 295,000 pounds of turkey and chicken products from a suburban Philadelphia plant on Wednesday, but expanded the recall over the weekend after tests came back positive for a strain of the potentially fatal bacteria, the company said Sunday.

The nationwide recall covers deli meat sold under the company's Wampler Foods brand. The meat was processed at the company's plant in Franconia, Pa., from May 1 through Oct. 11.

The discovery followed an investigation of a listeria outbreak in eight Northeast states since early summer that caused at least 120 illnesses and 20 deaths, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service said.

"We want consumers to be aware of the recall because of the potential for foodborne illness," said Dr. Garry L. McKee, the inspection service's administrator.

No Wampler products have been linked to that outbreak, said David Van Hoose, Wampler's chief executive officer. The genetic strain that caused the outbreak is different from the strain found at the plant, officials said.

"We don't have any scientific evidence at this point that there is a connection, but our analysis of sampling in that plant is not complete," inspection service spokesman Steven Cohen said.

The national recall is the largest in the history of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cohen said.

Each package being recalled bears the plant number P-1351 inside the USDA mark of inspection and a production date. Wampler officials said the recall didn't include fresh turkeys, and that it should have no effect on the holiday season.

The deli products were sold in retail groceries, in delicatessens and by food service distributors. Customers are being asked to return the meats to where they were purchased for a refund.

Listeria can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea, according to the USDA. It can be fatal in young children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems and can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.

The company said it halted all production Saturday at the plant about 25 miles north of Philadelphia so that it could be thoroughly cleaned.

The meat being recalled makes up roughly 6 percent of the company's total poultry production, Van Hoose said. The company didn't say how much revenue it would lose as a result of the shutdown.

Pilgrim's Pride is the nation's second-largest poultry company behind Tyson Foods.

The largest previous meat recall in U.S. history was in 1997, when Hudson Foods recalled 25 million pounds of ground beef after 15 people in Colorado fell ill from E. coli after eating hamburger from its plant in Columbus, Neb.

The Wampler recall comes less than three months after ConAgra Beef recalled nearly 19 million pounds of ground beef because of E. coli contamination at its plant in Greeley, Colo.

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