Investigators say an outbreak of listeria, which has killed seven, caused three pregnant women to miscarry and sickened at least 46, is strongly linked to the Wampler Foods factory that produces turkey and chicken sandwich meats in Franconia, Pa.
”Based on the environmental samples that we took from the plant and the other investigative work that we’ve done to date, it strongly suggested that turkey deli meat from this plant is the most likely source,” says Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
This is the first direct link to a food processor in this outbreak. Environmental sampling by the CDC over the weekend turned up the exact strain of the microbe implicated in the outbreak in a floor drain at the plant. The plant is expected to be closed for several days for cleaning and tests.
Wampler is owned by Pilgrim’s Pride, which voluntarily recalled 27.4 million pounds of deli meats on Sunday. Pilgrim’s Pride, based in Pittsburg, Texas, is the nation’s second-largest poultry seller, behind Tyson Foods.
The nationwide recall covers meat processed at the Franconia plant from May 1 through Oct. 11. The turkey and chicken deli meats were sold under the Wampler brand, Block & Barrel, Bonos, Golden Acre, Reliance and a variety of private labels. The products include freshly sliced poultry as well as sliced meat sold in individual packages and sandwiches sold at deli counters.
In a written statement, Wampler chief executive officer David Van Hoose said that ”the identified strain, while uncommon, cannot be associated with any single source as its place of origin.”
CDC’s Skinner countered that it was highly unlikely that matching samples of the microbe taken from the plant and patients were not linked.
Consumers should return any affected meat to the store or deli where it was purchased for a full refund. Consumers should ask grocers or deli managers whether the meat they bought came from a package marked with the plant number P-1351.
The CDC says no outbreak-related cases have occurred since Sept. 30. They believe much of the meat has already been eaten.
Listeriosis, caused by listeria, can leave victims with high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea. It can be fatal in young children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems and can cause miscarriages and stillbirths. Between 2,000 and 2,500 Americans suffer from the disease each year.
An outbreak of listeriosis earlier this year killed at least 20 people and caused 120 illnesses. The strain in that outbreak has not been linked to the current one.