A shopper loads groceries into her car at a Hannaford grocery store in Auburn in this 2011 photo. Multiple Maine stores, include Hannaford, are recalling tainted meatballs.
By Leslie Bridgers
SCARBOROUGH — Responding to a recall caused by listeria contamination, Hannaford Supermarkets, Cumberland Farms and Sam’s Club stores in Maine removed products made with Buona Vita meatballs from their shelves last week.
No illnesses have been reported in connection with the tainted meat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Even customers who knew that New Jersey-based Buona Vita had recalled more than 50 varieties of meatballs, loaves and patties on July 7 probably wouldn’t have connected it to the products they had bought in stores.
Hannaford sells the meatballs in sauce at the deli counter and, at a few stores, in panini sandwiches. Neither of those products carries the Buona Vita label, said Mike Norton, spokesman for the Scarborough-based grocery chain.
Buona Vita meatballs are in a kit with dry rigatoni that Sam’s Club buys from Valley Fine Foods, prepares daily in its stores – including those in Scarborough, Augusta and Bangor – and sells chilled as one of its family-size Home Meal Solutions, said Carrie Foster, spokeswoman for the Walmart-owned national wholesale chain.
Cumberland Farms, which has 46 stores in Maine, sells sandwiches made with Buona Vita meatballs that were not among those recalled. The Massachusetts-based gas station and convenience store chain decided to remove the products from its 600 stores because the meatballs were made in the same facility as the recalled products, said spokesman Derek Beckwith.
Buona Vita recalled about 325,000 pounds of beef, chicken and pork products, made from May 3 to May 9 and sold under several labels, after meat taken from a catering company in Ohio tested positive for listeria in routine testing by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said Erica Pitchford, a spokeswoman for the agency.
The sample was traced back to a Buona Vita product, she said.
Listeria is a type of bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections.
Hannaford, which had to recall 17,000 pounds of ground beef in December because of a salmonella outbreak, was notified on July 9 by the supplier of its meatballs in sauce that it uses a Buona Vita product that had been recalled, Norton said.
Around 7 p.m. on July 9, Norton said, about 50, 10-pound cases of meatballs were removed from stores in Maine, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. Norton didn’t know the number of stores. Hannaford has 181.
Norton said the company posted a notice about the recall on its website July 10 and let state and federal agencies involved in the recall know it had removed the product.
Hannaford did not post the information in stores, or send it to its customers directly or to the media, he said.
Foster, the spokeswoman for Sam’s Club, said club members who had bought the product were notified by phone and email, soon after the supplier notified Sam’s Club that it was carrying recalled meatballs.
Sam’s Club stores nationwide, Cumberland Farms stores in 10 states and four Hannaford stores – in Bridgton, Wells, Skowhegan and Hinesburg, Vt.
– were on a list of retailers that the U.S. Department Agriculture had “reason to believe ... received meatballs and various other frozen, ready-to-eat meat and poultry products that have been recalled by Buona Vita, Inc.”
The USDA noted that the list, posted on its website and last updated Tuesday, “may not include all retail locations that have received the recalled product or may include retail locations that did not actually receive the recalled product.”
It could not provide a complete list of Buona Vita’s customers on Wednesday, and calls made to Buona Vita were not returned. Norton said Hannaford decided not to issue a press release because the company suspected it would “create confusion.”
He said he thought that government agencies would send out a notice about all of the affected stores soon after the products were recalled.
"In hindsight, we probably should have been more aggressive” about getting the information out sooner," he said.
Norton said notifying government agencies that Hannaford was removing the recalled product from its stores was “an additional step” that was “a little unusual.”