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Largest-Ever U.S. Meat Recall Made

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 listeria the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

The company pulled 295,000 pounds of turkey and chicken products 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 meat processed at the company's plant in suburban Franconia from May 1 through Oct. 11.

The recall covers deli meat primarily sold under the company's Wampler Foods brand, though it is also sold under brands including Block & Barrel, Bonos, Golden Acre, Reliance and a variety of private labels. The products include turkey and poultry sold freshly sliced or made into sandwiches at deli counters and in individually sold packages of sliced deli meats.

Because consumers might not have access to the meat's original packaging, the best way to know if a product falls under the recall is to ask if it comes from a package that bears the plant number P-1351 inside the U.S. Department of Agriculture mark of inspection, said company spokesman Ray Atkinson. Production dates also can be found on that part of the label.

The deli products were sold in retail groceries, in delicatessens and by food service distributors.

Pilgrim's Pride, based in Pittsburg, Texas, is the nation's second-largest poultry company behind Tyson Foods. Its stock price plunged 24.7 percent, down $1.73, to close Monday at $5.28, on the New York Stock Exchange.

Consumers were urged by the company to return any affected meat to the store or deli where it was purchased for a full refund.

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 USDA'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 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," said the USDA's Steven Cohen. He said the recall was the largest in U.S. history.

Company officials said the recall didn't include fresh turkeys, and that it should have no effect on the holiday season.

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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site for listeriosis recommends that left-over or ready-to-eat foods should be cooked until steaming hot before eating.

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.

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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