PHILADELPHIA - Poultry processor Pilgrim's Pride is recalling 27.4 million pounds of cooked sandwich meat after warnings of possible contamination from listeria - the largest meat recall in U.S. history.
The company pulled 295,000 pounds of turkey and chicken products Wednesday but expanded the recall last weekend after tests came back positive for a strain of the potentially fatal bacteria, the company said Sunday.
The nationwide recall covers meat processed at the company's plant in suburban Franconia from May 1 through Wednesday.
The recall covers deli meat primarily sold under the company's Wampler Foods brand, though it is also sold under brands including Block & Barrel, Bonos, Golden Acre and Reliance and a variety of private labels. The products include turkey and poultry sold freshly sliced or made into sandwiches at deli counters and in individually sold packages of sliced deli meats.
Because consumers might not have access to the meat's original packaging, the best way to know whether a product falls under the recall is to ask the vendor whether the meat comes from a package that bears the plant number P-1351 inside the U.S. Department of Agriculture mark of inspection, company spokesman Ray Atkinson said. Production dates also can be found on that part of the label.
The deli products were sold in retail groceries, in delicatessens and by food service distributors.
Pilgrim's Pride, based in Pittsburg, Texas, is the nation's second-largest poultry company behind Tyson Foods.
Consumers were urged by the company to return any affected meat to the store or deli where it was purchased for a full refund.
The discovery came after an investigation of a listeria outbreak in eight Northeast states since early summer. That outbreak has caused at least 120 illnesses and 20 deaths, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said.
"We want consumers to be aware of the recall because of the potential for food-borne illness," said Dr. Garry L. McKee, the inspection service's administrator.
No products have been linked to that outbreak, said David Van Hoose, Wampler's chief executive officer. The genetic strain that caused the outbreak is different from the strain found at the plant, officials said.
"We don't have any scientific evidence at this point that there is a connection, but our analysis of sampling in that plant is not complete," said the USDA's Steven Cohen.
Company officials said the recall doesn't include fresh turkeys, and they didn't expect it to affect on the holiday season.
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.
For more information, call the company toll-free at (877) 260-7110 or the USDA Meat and Poultry hot line at (800) 535-4555.