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Schools in region not likely to be affected by listeria recall

Joe Napsha
| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 3:19 p.m.

A state Department of Agriculture official said Friday that it was unlikely that any schools in the region received meat that was recalled after it was linked to a listeria outbreak.

Barry Shutt, director of bureau food distribution at the department, said no schools in Westmoreland, Fayette or Indiana counties received the recalled products from Wampler Foods.

Fourteen schools in the state received the meat, and only Cumberland Valley School District, in Cumberland County, served the products. That district has not had any reports of students experiencing symptoms of the illness.

Schools in the area could have bought the product from private companies, but that is unlikely, Shutt said.

"They could buy those (products) commercially, but most likely they didn't since it was going to be almost an identical product that they were going to get from us for free," Shutt said.

The recall was announced by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials on Sunday, who said a Wampler Foods' plant in Franconia, Montgomery County, was recalling 27 million pounds of chicken and turkey meat. A USDA official said Thursday that her department had purchased 1.8 million pounds of the products for the federal lunch program.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said turkey deli meat from the plant probably caused a listeria outbreak in the Northeast that killed seven people and sickened 36. Three pregnant women who were infected had miscarriages or stillbirths.

Listeria is a bacteria sometimes found in deli meats and dairy products, which can cause severe illness and death. Children and those with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable to the disease. The initial symptoms are usually fever, muscle aches, and digestive problems like nausea or diarrhea, according to the CDC's Web site.

Nutrition Inc., of West Newton, provides food products to several schools in the area, including Greensburg Salem, Monessen, Mt. Pleasant Area, Penn-Trafford, Uniontown Area and Yough school districts.

Nicholas Talotta, a buyer for the company, said they distribute Tyson Foods Inc. products and not Wampler products.

"What normally happens is, if it's a government product, I get a call," Talotta said. "We have a pretty strict policy in place for all our recalls."

Some school district officials, when contacted by the Tribune-Review, affirmed that they did not receive any of the recalled meat.

Tammy Ross, food service director for the Brownsville Area School District, said the district does not purchase that type of processed meat.

"We have not gotten any of that product," said William Reeves, food service director for Franklin Regional School District. His company, Aramark, also has a specific procedure to follow when recalls are announced.

"We isolate the product and wait for the supplier to pick it up," Reeves said. "And hopefully we learn about it before we serve it."

Under his direction, Reeves never has had recalled food products served to students. But he has dealt with recalls before.

"It's only happened to me twice, maybe three times. It's very rare, but still scary."

Tribune-Review reporter Lesley Kennedy and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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