Meat processing was temporarily suspended at Tyson’s deli meats plant in Buffalo, NY, an action that by week’s end put 480 people out of work.

The action was “a result of USDA activities following the plant’s voluntary deli meat recall in August,” according to Tyson ‘s spokesman Gary Mickelson.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service rarely suspends operations at the “federal establishments” it regulates.  

On Aug. 23, Tyson-owned Zemco Industries  recalled 380,000 pounds of deli meat produced at the former Russer Foods plant after a sample tested positive for Listeria.

Most of the recalled products–various kinds of meats in “Marketside Grab and Go” sandwiches–were sold nationally in Wal-Mart stores.   A sample collected at a retail store in Georgia tested positive for Listeria and led to the recall.

No illnesses have been associated with the August recall.

Mickelson said 80 people continue working in the Buffalo facility to solve problems now preventing it from resuming operations.  “We’re working diligently to address this matter, since food safety and quality are essential to the continued success of our deli meats business,” he said.

“The deli meats produced at the plant are fully cooked to destroy bacteria and contain ingredients that inhibit bacterial growth,” Mickelson told Food Safety News.  “The plant also uses what we call our Sentinel Site Program, a food safety monitoring system designed to help us identify and correct any food safety concerns.” 

Listeria contamination has persisted in so-called “niches” inside some large ready-to-eat meat plants.  The most notable was at Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods’ Toronto plant, where product contamination was eventually blamed for the deaths of 22 mostly elderly Canadians in a nationwide outbreak.

USDA refers to the Buffalo plant as “Est. 5222.”  IBP acquired Russer Foods in 1999, and Tyson’s purchased IBP in 2001.  The August recall was the fifth since Tyson’s became responsible for ‘Est. 5222.”   The four other recalls included:

— July 19, 2002 – Russer Foods recalled 65 pounds of fresh ready-to-eat Braunschweiger for Listeria contamination.

— Aug. 10, 2002- Russer Foods recalled 1,300 pounds of ready-to-eat Italian Loaf for Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

— Aug. 10, 2004 – Zemco Industries Inc. recalled 422 pounds of fully cooked ham for Listeria contamination.

— Nov. 8, 2004 -Zemco Industries Inc. recalled 50,000 pounds of frankfurters for possible undercooking.

Tyson Foods Inc., founded in 1935 with headquarters in Springdale, AK, is one of the world’s largest processors and marketers of chicken, beef, and pork and is the second largest food production company listed in the Fortune 500.  It employs 117,000 at more 400 facilities and offices in the U.S. and around the world.

Before the the temporary layoffs at the Tyson deli plant were announced, the Buffalo-Erie metro area was just gaining some economic traction with the addition of about 1,600 jobs over the previous year.

 USDA has not said anything about its regulatory actions involving the plant.