Meat Plant's Products Are Seen as Probable Source of Bacteria
By ELIZABETH BECKER
New York Times
October 15, 2002
WASHINGTON, Oct. 15 — Turkey and chicken products of the Pilgrim's Pride Corporation are likely to have been a source of the listeria that caused seven deaths in seven Northeast states, the Department of Agriculture said today.
"We found the outbreak strain in three samplings we took but we're continuing the investigation," said Stephen Cohen, spokesman for the department's food and safety and inspection service. "This is a significant discovery but we cannot say this is conclusive."
On Sunday, Pilgrim's Pride, which is based in Pittsburg, Tex., expanded its earlier recall and asked that 27.4 million pounds of cooked turkey and chicken products be returned for fear that the delicatessen meats and roasts sold under the Wampler brand were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.
The recall is prompting growing demands for tighter inspection of meats and poultry.
Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, wrote Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman asking that she adopt regulations to better control listeria that were initiated by President Bill Clinton.
Three people in counties around New York City have died in the recent outbreak. "It is a serious public health threat," Ms. Lowey said. Mr. Cohen said that while the deadly strain was found in the Wampler plant in Franconia, Pa., his investigators had not yet found the strain in the meat products.
Pilgrim's Pride, the second-largest poultry producer in the country, initially recalled 295,000 pounds of turkey and chicken products after investigators looking for the source of this summer's outbreak discovered listeria bacteria in the conveyor belt at the Franconia plant.
When more listeria was discovered in other parts of the plant, the corporation voluntarily recalled almost three months worth of turkey and chicken products.
Richard Cogdill, the chief financial officer of Pilgrim's Pride, said on Monday that Agriculture Department inspectors tested the Franconia plant daily and approved its cleanliness.
He said the plant would remain closed until the inspectors completed their investigation and assured that no more listeria bacteria were found. Felicia Nestor, of Public Citizen's Government Accountability Project and an author of a report on government testing of ground beef, said the Agriculture Department had failed to do the testing necessary to continue the nation's traditionally high standards of food safety.
Details of the products being recalled can be found on the Web site www.fsis.usda.gov or by calling an Agriculture Department meat and poultry hot line, (800) 535-4555.
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As of March 2002, UTIMCO has $341,220 invested in Pilgrim's Pride Corporation. Pilgrim's is also one of the largest donators to the GOP, namely Bush.