PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Sandwich meat from a processing plant at the center of the largest meat recall in U.S. history is the most likely source of a deadly listeria outbreak that has spread across the Northeast this year, a federal official said.
A strain of the potentially fatal bacteria that was found in a drain at the Wampler Foods plant in Franconia, Pa., 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.
Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride, owner of Wampler Foods, announced a nationwide recall of more than 27 million pounds of turkey and chicken products on Sunday after tests found listeria in the drain.
On Oct. 2, food inspectors were led to the plant after people sickened in the listeria outbreak had said they had eaten its products -- including turkey pastrami, turkey ham and chicken breasts. Tests for listeria came back positive in food processed at the plant on Aug. 14 that was distributed nationwide to retail stores, restaurants and school cafeterias.
While that genetic strain is different from those of samples from people infected during the outbreak, the strain found in the drain is a match, leading investigators to believe the plant is the most likely source of the listeria that caused the outbreak, Skinner said.
However, many of the listeria cases in the outbreak were caused by strains not found at the Franconia plant.
David Van Hoose, chief executive officer of Pilgrim's Pride, stressed that the CDC has not linked the outbreak to any of the recalled Wampler products.
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