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Report: Listeria Warning Given

Nov 4, 2002 | AP Inspectors had warned a food plant of numerous sanitation violations months before a deadly listeria outbreak was linked to the facility, but little was done to fix the problems, a newspaper said Sunday.

Moldy pipes, food particles left on conveyor belts, water leaking onto meat and a cockroach found in a locker were among dozens of problems the U.S. Department of Agriculture found at the suburban Wampler Foods plant, according to inspection documents obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Despite being cited for violations more than 40 times since January, "corrective actions were either not implemented or ineffective," the USDA records said.

The plant closed Oct. 12 after officials identified it as a source of a listeria outbreak blamed for at least seven deaths and dozens of illnesses. Wampler's parent company, Pilgrim's Pride, recalled more than 27 million pounds of turkey and chicken, the biggest meat recall in U.S. history.

Wampler spokesman Gary Dunlap said there was no "systematic problem" with the plant and said that before the recall the USDA hadn't considered any of the violations cited in the records serious enough to close the factory.

Among violations cited by the USDA were meat residue from the previous day's production found in processing areas, "grease and brown-black buildup" on conveyor surfaces, and clear liquid and "black foreign particles" draining into frozen meat.

USDA inspectors are on site daily at all 6,400 meat-processing plants in the United States, but some consumer advocates have warned that regulatory changes in 1998 took away their enforcement powers.

Larry Berman, a USDA food inspector in Albany, N.Y., said problems similar to those found at Wampler occur throughout the industry.

"If you look at all the recalls, you'll see the same story: Enforcement is substandard, and the plants are not living up to the responsibility of policing themselves," Berman told the Inquirer.

On Saturday, the USDA said another meat processing company, Jack Lambersky Poultry Co. Inc., in Camden, N.J., was recalling 200,000 pounds of ready-to-eat chicken and turkey sold nationwide and possibly linked to the listeria outbreak.

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