Health officials are investigating two deaths and six other cases of illness to see whether they were caused by contaminated hot dogs, the federal Centers for Disease Control said Thursday.
Hot dogs made at a New York City factory and distributed around the country were recalled after listeria, a food-borne bacteria, was found at the plant, which makes hot dogs sold nationally under the brands Sabrett's and Western Beef.
Food contaminated by the listeria bacteria can cause listerosis, an uncommon but potentially fatal disease. Healthy people rarely contract the disease that has symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea.
Listeria found in an unopened package of Sabrett's hot dogs appeared to be of a similar strain to bacteria from eight patients in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Georgia and Rhode Island, said Tom Skinner, a CDC spokesman. Two of the eight have died. Skinner did not know exactly where any of the sickened people lived.
The East Rutherford, N.J.-based Marathon Enterprises Inc., which operates the New York plant, shut it and recalled about 52,000 pounds of hot dogs on Oct. 13. It expanded the recall Tuesday to 2.1 million pounds of frankfurters.
Sixteen-ounce and 5-pound packages of Sabrett's Skinless Beef Frankfurters and Western Beef Skinless Beef Frankfurters bearing the code EST 8854 were recalled.
Courtenay Higgins, a spokeswoman for Marathon, said preliminary test results showed the company's hot dogs may not have caused the listeriosis cases.
"The actions that the CDC is taking are part of their normal, routine procedure in any inquiry," she said. "Right now, it's inappropriate to conclude that it's directly linked."
Skinner said the CDC had not confirmed that the hot dogs caused the eight illnesses, but was investigating because listeria from a hot dog package appeared to match that of bacteria from the patients.
"We're very early in the investigation," Skinner said. "We're working with these states to complete some testing...We have not been able to identify a source at this point."
Western Beef spokeswoman Selma Gore said the company has switched to another manufacturer for its frankfurters.
© 1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.