TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The Topps Meat Co. vastly expanded its recall of frozen hamburger patties that may be contaminated with E. coli after federal inspectors discovered inadequate safety measures at its plant.
The Elizabeth-based company said on Saturday it's recalling 21.7 million pounds of ground beef products, up from 332,000 pounds of ground beef initially recalled on Tuesday.
Investigators think 25 people may have been sickened in eight states including Indiana.
The recall represents all Topps products with either a ''sell by date'' or ''best if used by date'' between Sept. 25 this year and Sept. 25, 2008. The company said this information could be found on a package's back panel.
All recalled products, according to Topps, will have a USDA establishment number of EST 9748, which is located on the back panel of the package and/or in the USDA legend.
The move comes after federal inspectors on Friday said they suspended the grinding of raw products after finding inadequate safety measures at the Topps plant. The USDA has declined to detail the inadequate safety measures, but said New York health officials have found additional Topps products tainted with the bacteria.
''Because the health and safety of our consumers is our top priority, we are taking these expansive measures,'' said Geoffrey Livermore, Topps' operations vice president.
He said Topps is continuing to work with the USDA, state health departments, retailers and distributors and has augmented its procedures with microbiologists and food safety experts.
''We sincerely regret any inconvenience and concerns this may cause our consumers,'' Livermore said.
Topps said products affected by the expanded recall were distributed to retail grocery stores and food service institutions throughout the United States. The company said it believes most of the recalled product has been consumed, but it was imperative that customers look for the products in the freezers.
The USDA said the products were produced on various dates between Sept. 25, 2006, and Sept. 25 this year.
The USDA said three people are confirmed as getting E. Coli from Topps products, with another 22 cases under investigation. Cases were found in Indiana, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The attorney for a Florida teenager has questioned why it took more than two weeks to recall Topps products after tests showed the girl fell seriously ill after eating one of the company's hamburger patties.
Scott J. Schlesinger said tests confirmed on Sept. 7 that Samantha Safranek, 15, of Fort Lauderdale, got sick from Topps frozen hamburgers.
News of the expanded recall on Saturday caused the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry to resume calls for a presidential commission on food safety.
''The recent spike in recalls involving meat products should serve as a warning about our meat and poultry food safety system and the oversight of domestic processing,'' said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
E. coli causes intestinal illness that generally clears up within a week for adults but can be deadly for the very young, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. Symptoms can include severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea and, in extreme cases, kidney failure.
A full list of the recalled products is available here.