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PHILADELPHIA - Poultry processor Pilgrim's Pride is recalling 27.4 million pounds of cooked sandwich meat after warnings of possible contamination from the listeria bacteria, in what is being called the largest meat recall in U.S. history. The meat was sold in retail groceries, in delicatessens and by food service distributors.
The company recalled 295,000 pounds of turkey and chicken products from a suburban Philadelphia plant on Wednesday, but expanded the recall over the weekend after tests came back positive for a strain of the potentially fatal bacteria, the company said Sunday.
The nationwide recall covers deli meat sold under the company's Wampler Foods brand. The meat was processed at the company's plant in Franconia, Pa., from May 1 through Oct. 11.
The affected products are sold under a variety of brands, including Wampler Foods, Block & Barrel, Bonos, Golden Acre and Reliance. The products include turkey and poultry sold freshly sliced or made into sandwiches at deli counters.
Consumers were urged by the company to return any meat covered under the recall to the store or deli where it was purchased for a full refund.
The discovery followed an investigation of a listeria outbreak in eight Northeast states since early summer that caused at least 120 illnesses and 20 deaths, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service said.
No Wampler products have been linked to that outbreak, said David Van Hoose, Wampler's CEO. The genetic strain that caused the outbreak is different from the strain found at the plant, officials said.
USDA officials said the national recall is the largest in the department?s history.
Each package being recalled bears the plant number P-1351 inside the USDA mark of inspection and a production date. Wampler officials said the recall didn't include fresh turkeys, and that it should have no effect on the holiday season.
The company said it halted all production Saturday at the plant about 25 miles north of Philadelphia so that it could be thoroughly cleaned.
The meat being recalled makes up roughly 6 percent of the company's total poultry production, Van Hoose said. The company didn't say how much revenue it would lose as a result of the shutdown. Pilgrim's Pride is the nation's second-largest poultry company behind Tyson Foods.
The largest previous meat recall in U.S. history was in 1997, when Hudson Foods recalled 25 million pounds of ground beef after 15 people in Colorado fell ill from E. coli after eating hamburger from its plant in Columbus, Neb.
The Wampler recall comes less than three months after ConAgra Beef recalled nearly 19 million pounds of ground beef because of E. coli contamination at its plant in Greeley, Colo.
-- Associated Press