Most employees remain off the job at a suburban Philadelphia meat-processing plant that federal inspectors believe is the source of a deadly listeria outbreak that struck the Northeast.
The Wampler Foods plant whose 750 employees make cold cuts, frankfurters, chicken salad and other ready-to-eat meat products has been closed for cleaning and inspection since Oct. 12.
About one-third of the plant’s nonunionized employees are working on the cleanup, while others are collecting unemployment, company spokesman Ray Atkinson said Wednesday.
Production will resume “when both our company and the USDA are satisfied that everything is ready to go,” Atkinson said.
On Oct. 13, Pilgrim’s Pride, the Texas-based owner of the plant, announced a 27.4 million-pound recall of various meats prepared at the plant, the largest in U.S. Department of Agriculture history.
Pilgrim’s Pride initially hoped to reopen within a few days, but no longer has a target date, Atkinson said.
Deli turkey from the Wampler plant is the most likely source of an outbreak that has caused at least seven deaths and 39 illnesses in the Northeast since early summer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A strain of the potentially fatal bacteria that was found in a drain at the plant is a genetic match of the strain that caused the outbreak, the CDC said.
Listeria has caused at least 120 illnesses and 20 deaths in the Northeast since early summer, but many of those cases were caused by strains not found at the Franconia plant, officials said.