Barber Foods of Portland has recalled 1.7 million pounds of frozen, raw chicken products over concerns that they might be contaminated with salmonella.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday announced the recall of the chicken processed between Feb. 17 and May 20 at the Barber Foods plant on St. John Street and distributed throughout the United States and Canada.

A spokesman for Barber Foods’ parent company, AdvancePierre Foods Inc., released a statement saying the company is working with the USDA, but he refused to answer specific questions.

The USDA categorized it as a Class I recall, the most serious type, with a “reasonable probability” that eating the food would cause serious health problems.

The USDA produces a report of all food safety recalls each year. Last year, there were 63 Class I recalls – four involving potential salmonella contamination. Of the 63, only three were larger than 1.7 million pounds.

Monday’s action was an expansion of a limited recall of about 58,000 pounds of frozen, raw chicken on July 2 that was prompted by a cluster of six illnesses in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the USDA said.

The product originally suspected of being contaminated was the family size box of “Barber Foods Premium Entrees Breaded-Boneless Raw Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Rib Meat Kiev.”

Since the July 2 recall, two more salmonella cases have been identified, prompting Barber to pull nearly all the chicken products processed on what its website said were nine production dates between February and May. However, the USDA website listed 13 production dates associated with the recall. The cause of the discrepancy was unclear Monday night.

A list of the 54 recalled products packaged under the Barber Foods, Meijer and Loblaw brand names is available on Barber’s website. The recalled items all bear a “P-276” inside the USDA inspection mark.

FEW DETAILS FROM PARENT COMPANY

Barber Foods, a division of Cincinnati, Ohio-based AdvancePierre Foods Inc., produces a variety of frozen, stuffed chicken products, including cordon bleu, Kiev, broccoli and cheese, and chicken Parmesan. Barber Foods has been in business in Maine for 60 years, and was bought by AdvancePierre in 2011. Several rounds of layoffs followed the sale, but the company still employs about 300 workers in Portland.

Nick Vehr, a spokesman for AdvancePierre Foods, said in a written statement that Barber is collaborating with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service division “to modify our production practices including, but not limited to, additional levels of microbiological analysis and additional control procedures to reduce salmonella in both incoming and outgoing raw, stuffed chicken breast products.”

Vehr refused to answer further questions, including whether Barber has had recalls before or how many pounds of chicken the Portland plant processes annually.

Katherine Scheidt, a public affairs officer in the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service division, said she found only one other recall involving Barber – a recall of 6,040 pounds of chicken product in 2009.

Salmonella is one of the most common food-borne illnesses and can cause diarrhea, cramping and fever. Symptoms typically last between four and seven days, and sometimes are severe enough to require hospitalization.

In most cases, salmonella bacteria is killed when meat is thoroughly cooked. Barber’s frozen chicken products are sold raw, and provide consumers instructions on how to cook them safely. The USDA periodically issues warnings to consumers about properly cooking raw, frozen chicken.

Scheidt said food processing facilities such as Barber Foods are inspected on a continual basis.

In his statement, Vehr said the company had identified the root cause of the possible contamination, but he did not identify it or elaborate further.

“Barber Foods has a long history of producing high-quality and wholesome products, and strives to ensure continual delivery of safe foods to the marketplace,” his statement read.

MORE ATTENTION TO FOOD SAFETY

Eric Blom, a spokesman for Hannaford, one of many retailers that carry Barber products, said employees were removing the recalled chicken from shelves Monday. Blom said anyone who purchased the recalled products can return them to their Hannaford store for a full refund.

A spokesperson for Shaws, the other major food retailer in Maine, did not return calls or emails for comment.

The Barber Foods recall was announced on the same day the U.S. Justice Department issued a warning to food companies that they could face civil or criminal penalties for poisoning customers.

Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery told The Associated Press that the Obama administration has made it a priority to hold companies accountable for failing to protect food safety.

The AP cited several examples over the last couple years, including the 2014 plea involving former Maine egg farmer Austin “Jack” DeCoster, who was jailed and fined because of a massive salmonella outbreak at farms in Iowa.