Federal officials said Tuesday a deadly outbreak of listeria probably began at a suburban Philadelphia meat plant now at the center of the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
A strain of the bacteria found in a drain at the Wampler Foods plant in Franconia is a genetic match of the strain that caused the outbreak, said Tom Skinner, spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Turkey deli meat from this plant is the most likely source of this outbreak,” he said.
The outbreak is blamed for at least seven deaths and 39 illnesses in the Northeast since early summer. The bacteria is blamed for other deaths and illnesses in the region, but many of those cases were caused by other strains.
On Oct. 2, federal food inspectors were led to the Franconia plant after people sickened in the outbreak said they had eaten its products, including turkey pastrami, turkey ham and chicken breasts.
Tests turned up listeria in food processed at the plant Aug. 14 that was distributed nationwide to retail stores, restaurants and school cafeterias.
Pilgrim’s Pride, the parent company of Wampler Foods, announced a nationwide recall Sunday of 27 million pounds of turkey and chicken products after tests found listeria in the drain.
A spokesman for Pilgrim’s Pride, Michael Schiferl, said Tuesday the company had not been officially notified of the CDC’s findings and had no immediate comment.
The recall covers ready-to-eat deli meat primarily sold under the Wampler brand, though it is also sold under a variety of private labels. The products include poultry sold at deli counters and sliced meat sold in individual packages.
Consumers were urged by the company to return any affected meat to the store or deli where it was purchased for a refund. The best way to know if a product falls under the recall is to ask if it comes from a package that bears the plant number P-1351 inside the USDA mark of inspection.
Listeria can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea, according to the USDA. It can be fatal in young children, the elderly and people with weak immune systems and can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.