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Meat Recall Ordered

Sara Lee Corp. announced Tuesday that it is recalling hot dogs and other packaged meats after an outbreak of food poisoning sickened more than 35 people in nine states, killing four.

Cases are under investigation in Ohio, New York, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Michigan, West Virginia, Connecticut, Oregon, and Vermont.

Health officials said the outbreak was caused by the listeria bacterium, which can be found in meat products.

The federal Centers for Disease Control was still waiting for the results of tests performed on products from Sara Lee's Bil Mar Foods division in Zeeland, Mich., to see if meat produced there was the source of the outbreak, CDC spokeswoman Barbara Reynolds said from Washington.

The company said it was recalling certain meats including some sold under the Ball Park, Grillmaster and Hygrade brands as a precaution.

"The safety of everyone who eats our products is our No. 1 priority, and therefore we are voluntarily taking this precautionary measure," George A. Chivari, president and chief executive officer of Bil Mar Foods, said in a news release.

Sara Lee spokeswoman Theresa Herlevsen declined to say how many packages were involved in the recall. The company anticipates taking a pre-tax charge of $50 million to $70 million in the second quarter, ending Dec. 26, to cover the cost.

Healthy people usually can fight off listeria with no more than flu-like symptoms. But the bacterium can kill, causing meningitis or blood infection. Most at risk are pregnant women, the elderly and people with weak immune systems.

About 1,800 cases of food poisoning caused by the bacterium are reported in the United States annually, Reynolds said.

Sara Lee is cooperating with investigators from the CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Herlevsen said.

The products affected by the recall are coded EST P261 or EST 6911 and include the national Ball Park, Grillmaster and Hygrade brands, distributed throughout the United States. Also affected are the regional Bil Mar, Bryan Bunsize and Bryan 3-pound Club Pack hot dogs, Mr. Turkey, Sara Lee Deli Meat and Sara Lee Home Roast brands.

Consumers can return the meat to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Written by Alexandra Zavis.