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Source of Life-Threatening Listeriosis Outbreak Found

The CDC Suspects The Tainted Turkey Meat Which Has Been Linked To Seven Deaths And Three Stillbirths And Miscarriages Was Processed By Wampler Foods

Oct 18, 2002 | Government health investigators believe they have found the source of a life-threatening bacteria outbreak that has sickened and killed people in Northeastern states over the last few weeks.

Investigators had determined through interviews with people who came down with the foodborne illness, called listeriosis that the food most likely to have caused the outbreak was turkey deli meat sold at restaurants and supermarkets, and served at institutions, including some schools participating in federal lunch programs, according to the Associated Press.

Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which has been investigating the outbreak, says the CDC now suspects that the turkey meat that caused the outbreak was processed by a plant in Franconia, PA, owned by Wampler Foods.

Wampler closed the plant on October 13 and initiated the largest meat recall in U.S. history after investigators found that a strain of listeria found in drains in the Wampler plant, matched the strain that has sickened at least 44 people, killed seven, and resulted in three miscarriages or stillbirths. Skinner says that investigators are continuing to test meat samples at the plant to see if they can find the strain of bacteria in a Wampler meat source.

Earlier, the company took strong measures to try to stem the outbreak by shutting its plant, and recalling all turkey and chicken deli products sold by Wampler Foods since last spring. But CDC investigators remind consumers to check their refrigerators for packets of recalled meat that should be returned to the store where it was purchased, and reminds pregnant women, young children, older people, and anyone with a compromised immune system to avoid foods that pose the highest risk of contamination of listeria bacteria.

Wampler Foods is asking the public to keep in mind that so far, no meat from the closed plant has been implicated in the current outbreak. Dr. Catherine W. Donnelly, who holds a Ph.D. in food microbiology, is a professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Vermont, Burlington. She spoke on behalf of Wampler Foods, and says, "Just because there is a finding of microbial presence in an environmental sample does not mean that product is contaminated, nor that a sample is definitely the source of an outbreak. In the absence of a direct link to product contamination, these results must be interpreted with caution."

However, the United Stated Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the CDC, continues its scientific investigation into the outbreak and the Wampler plant.

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