Montgomery County food processor Wampler Foods Inc. has recalled 27.4 million pounds of poultry products that may be contaminated with listeria, the largest such action ever, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Pilgrim’s Pride, the parent company of Wampler, has temporarily closed the Franconia Township plant where the poultry was processed, company officials said yesterday.
The listeria strain found at the plant is different from the one linked to a recent outbreak in the northeastern United States that has caused at least 20 deaths, the USDA said in announcing the recall Saturday.
In Philadelphia, 12 people have contracted listeriosis since July, two fatally.
Listeria was found in Wampler products during the agency’s investigation of the outbreak. On Wednesday, the company announced it was recalling 295,000 pounds of turkey and chicken deli meat from the Franconia plant.
Further testing found listeria inside the Franconia plant, and the company closed the facility yesterday. None of the 800 workers has become ill, Wampler officials said. The plant will remain closed until it has been thoroughly cleaned, a process begun over the weekend.
The expanded recall now includes cooked deli meats processed between May 1 and Friday bearing the plant code P-1351 on the USDA inspection mark. The May 1 date was chosen because it was approximately six weeks before the area’s first reported case of listeriosis, company officials said yesterday.
Company officials asked consumers to return any product affected by the recall for a refund.
The national recall is the largest in the history of the USDA, said Steven Cohen, a spokesman for the inspection service. In the previous biggest U.S. meat recall, Hudson Foods recalled 25 million pounds of hamburger in 1997 after 15 people in Colorado fell ill.
Company officials said the products are sold nationwide through grocery stores, delicatessens, and food-service distributors. David Van Hoose, chief executive officer of Pilgrim’s Pride, said the company would not release the names of stores in the Philadelphia area or elsewhere that sold the meat because it had not been able to notify all its distributors.
Van Hoose and Richard A. Cogdill, the firm’s chief financial officer, spoke to the media in a teleconference yesterday from the Franconia plant. Pilgrim’s Pride is based in Pittsburg, Texas.
“When we sell to a distributor, we have no knowledge of who their customers are,” Cogdill said. “We don’t want to provide partial information that might turn out to be incorrect.”
Cogdill said the recall did not affect other Pilgrim’s Pride facilities, including those that process fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving.
When the Franconia plant reopens, workers there will be retrained in food-safety procedures and the products will undergo additional pasteurization after processing to ensure that any listeria has been eradicated, company officials said yesterday.
The listeria bacterium can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea, according to the USDA. It can kill young children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems and can cause miscarriages and stillbirths.
Van Hoose and Cogdill recommended that, as a precaution, consumers who may have eaten Wampler products and had symptoms of food-borne illness should see a physician.