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Wampler Strain Matches Deadly Bacteria

Oct 18, 2002 | Montgomery Newspapers

Investigators from the Centers for Disease Control said Tuesday that the strain of Listeria that has infected 48 people in the Northeast this summer matches a strain found at Wampler Foods in Franconia.

According to a press release posted on the CDC Web site Oct. 15, Listeria in three environmental samples taken from the Franconia plant have the same "DNA fingerprint" as the strain that has been infecting people since mid-July.

According to the CDC, one food product and 25 environmental samples taken from the plant tested positive for Listeria.

This is the first time that any link has been found between the cooked deli products that Wampler is recalling and the Listeria outbreak.

Forty-eight people have been hospitalized with listeriosis so far, the CDC said. Seven have died and three pregnant women have had miscarriages or stillbirths.

Approximately 24.7 million pounds of turkey and chicken items have been recalled, and the plant has been closed since Oct. 13 for cleaning and sanitization.

"We are taking these precautionary measures because the safety and health of our consumers is our first concern," said David Van Hoose, chief executive officer. "We're working diligently with the USDA and our customers to make sure that any product that has not yet been consumed is removed from the marketplace and consumers' homes as quickly as possible."

Company Representative Ann Koepel said earlier this week that Wampler hopes to reopen the factory "within several days."

Approximately 800 people work at the Franconia plant, according to Ray Atkinson of Wampler. Some employees are being brought in for specific projects during the hiatus, Atkinson said, and they will be paid for the days they work.

For example, he said, employees were brought in on Oct. 14 for safety and sanitation training.

On Oct. 9, Wampler ordered a recall of approximately 295,000 pounds of selected deli products, including turkey pastrami and chicken breast. These products were produced on Aug. 14 at the plant.

This recall was ordered because a sample taken at the plant tested positive for a type of bacteria called Listeria.

The recall was expanded on Oct. 13 to include all of the cooked deli products produced at the factory between May 1 and Oct. 11. According to the company, this move was taken when " environmental sampling suggested the continued presence in the plant of the strain of Listeria found in the product that was recalled Oct. 9."

Koepel said that the recall was made nationwide because it would be faster to remove all the product that might be contaminated than it would be to identify the items that are definitely affected.

Cooked deli products marketed under the brand names Wampler, Block & Barrel and Golden Acre were affected by the recall. Other items made by Wampler, such as frozen turkey burgers, are not affected

Officials of Pilgrim's Pride Corporation, Wampler's Parent Corporation, said on Oct. 13 that they do not expect the recall to have an adverse effect on its financial condition.

Chief Financial Officer Rick Cogdill said, "In matters directly relating to this recall, we believe our company is adequately covered by its insurance program. However, there always could be differences between the accounting periods in which recall effects are realized and insurance recoveries are received."

Van Hoose said, "First and foremost, Wampler is committed to the integrity and safety of its products and is proactively undertaking this voluntary recall in full cooperation with the Department of Agriculture.

Healthy people rarely contract listerosis, according to the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. However, listerosis can cause high fever, severe headaches, neck stiffness and nausea. It can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as serious and sometimes fatal infections to those with weak immune systems, such as infants, the frail or elderly or people with HIV.

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