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Largest U.S. Meat Recall Made

Oct 15, 2002 | AP Dom Spatano, who runs a deli in the Reading Terminal Market downtown, said Monday he has changed what he puts in his kids' lunchboxes because of the biggest meat recall in U.S. history.

"I stayed away from the turkey," Spatano said of a weekend trip to the grocery store.

Pilgrim's Pride voluntary recalled 27.4 million pounds of sliced deli poultry Sunday over concerns about possible listeria contamination. The parent of Wampler Foods announced its decision after a strain of the potentially fatal bacteria was found at a Wampler plant in suburban Philadelphia.

The nationwide recall covers meat processed at the Franconia plant from May 1 through Oct. 11. The plant, which has about 800 employees, was expected to be closed for at least several days for cleaning and tests.

Earlier this year, a listeria outbreak in eight Northeast states killed at least 20 people and caused 120 illnesses. Tests thus far have not linked the strain at the plant to the one that caused the outbreak.

Much of the meat involved in the recall already has been eaten, officials said.

Outside a stand in the terminal Monday, Jerry Hahn, a snow-shovel salesman, bit into a turkey sandwich with bravado. He said he had been assured the stand roasted its own turkey.

"So I'm taking their word for it," said Hahn, 55, of Monticello, Iowa. "But I'm also the type of guy that would have flown on Sept. 12."

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

"It's all about ready-to-eat product. It just happens to be that sliced deli turkey meat is a product that a lot of people eat," said Steve Cohen of the USDA.

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

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 recommends cooking leftover or ready-to-eat foods until steaming hot before eating.

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.

Shares of Pilgrim's Pride fell nearly 25 percent Monday to close at $5.28, down $1.73 on the New York Stock Exchange. Pilgrim's Pride, based in Pittsburg, Texas, is the nation's second largest poultry seller behind Tyson Foods.

The company has not yet estimated the cost of the recall, but said the product lines being recalled represent less than 2 percent of company sales.

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