Suit Claims Wampler Cited for Sanitation Violations - Souderton Independent - November 6, 2002

By: Bill Spangler, staff writer
Souderton Independent
November 6, 2002

The federal government has cited Wampler Foods, Inc. in Franconia more than 40 times since January for sanitation violations, according to a lawyer who has filed a class action suit against the company.

Chicago Attorney Kenneth B Moll listed some of the violations in a complaint that he filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on Monday.

The plaintiff in the suit is Dr. frank Niemtzow, 98, of Longboat Key, Fla., a physician who was stricken with listeriosis after eating deli products during a visit to the are this summer.

The complaint states that the citations were made by the United States department of Agriculture. Some of the violations listed in the document are as follows:

  • A live cockroach found in the men's locker room
  • Mold and dust on pipes
  • Meat residue from the previous day's production, found in processing areas.
  • Grease and brown-black residue on conveyor belts.
  • Meat particles splattered on machinery in the turkey-processing center, before that day's production began.
  • The document quotes a USDA source as saying, 'corrective actions were either not implemented or ineffective.'

A representative from Pilgrim's Pride, Wampler's parent company, declined comment but instead issued the following statement about the violations on November 6:

'Any issue or concern raised by the USDA was immediately acted upon, written explanation was provided to the USDA and the USDA confirmed those adjustments were made. The anonymous inspector cited in previous news articles is unknown to us and there has not been any official notification from USDA that any prior safety or sanitation issues have not been addressed.'

Wampler Foods, which employs approximately 800 people, has been closed since Oct. 13 for cleaning and sanitization. The plant was closed after the company announced the voluntary recall of 27.4 million pounds of cooked turkey and chicken products.

The recall was announced when samples from the plant tested positive for the bacteria called listeria.

On Oct. 15, the Centers for Disease Control announced that the strain of listeria found in three of the environmental samples at Wampler matched the strain that had caused the outbreak in the Northeast.

On Nov. 2, though, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced the J.L. Foods Company Inc., based in Camden N.J. was recalling approximately 200,000 pounds of chicken and turkey products that may be contaminated with listeria.

According to the CDC, samples of listeria taken from this plant also match the strain seen in the outbreak.

Since mid-July, 48 people have been hospitalized with listeriosis, caused by a strain of listeria, the Centers for Disease Control said. Seven have died and three pregnant women have had miscarriages or stillbirths.

Dr. Niemtzow was hospitalized from Aug. 9 to Oct. 1 for listeriosis, according to Sonia Kinra of the Kenneth B Moll & Associates law firm.

'He doesn't know if he'll ever fully recover.'

Kinra said Dr. Niemtzow was told by a representative of the Pennsylvania Department of Health that he was exposed to the same outbreak of listeria that was found in the wampler foods plant.

Dr. Niemtzow contacted Moll because his son was a lawyer and was familiar with the work that the firm had done in similar cases, Kinra said.

The class action suit was filed against both Wampler and Pilgrim's Pride. The complaint lists the goals of the suit as follows:

  • 'To inform the public and consumers that the defendants' meat products may have been and still could be contaminated with listeria.
  • 'To reimburse monies paid for the recalled products.
  • 'To award Plaintiff and class members compensatory damage for injuries suffered.'
  • The amount of any damages awarded will be decided by a jury, Kinra said.

So far, she said, the firm has had approximately 20 inquiries from people wanting more information about the suit.

Pilgrim's Pride released the following statement after the announcement of the class action suit: 'While we do not comment on pending litigation, we can assure you that the health and safety of our customers and the quality of our products have always been Wampler's top priorities.

'Accordingly, we will assist the USDA in any way we can as they continue their review of the situation. In fact, we understand that inspectors recently found listeria that is similar to the outbreak strain in product processed by another company, suggesting that the outbreak may have other sources. By contrast, no Wampler products have been tested positive for the strain of listeria linked to the outbreak. Wampler will continue to cooperate fully with the USDA to bring closure to this matter, for all those who have been affected.'