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Threat of tainted ice prompts recall

Workers at an ice manufacturer dumped the product Thursday during a recall of bagged ice sold at supermarkets and convenience stores across Central Florida.

A potential for sewage contamination prompted Reddy Ice Corp. to issue a voluntary recall.

Recent heavy rains caused a holding pond near the plant to overflow into a parking lot, and state officials feared some of the overflow _ possibly polluted by the plant's septic system _ might have been tracked inside.

Distributors sold the ice in 8-, 20- and 40-pound bags to Kash n' Karry, Winn-Dixie, Food Lion, 7-Eleven convenience stores and mom-and-pop grocers, said Jim Weaver, president of the Dallas-based company.

"We told customers to throw the ice away and stores to destroy it on site and give us the bags or quarantine it, and we will destroy it for them," said Weaver, who flew in from Dallas after the recall went out Wednesday.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford said the recall was a precautionary move to prevent possible food-borne illnesses.

Weaver called the possibility remote because ice making is completely automated. However, crews stopped production, isolated the ice they had and sanitized the equipment.

The precautionary recall was issued after the problem was found Wednesday during a routine inspection at the Tampa plant, said Dr. John Fruin, the Department of Agriculture's bureau chief for food and meat inspection.

"There has been no confirmation of any contamination," Weaver said. "We're being very proactive. We've resanitized the entire facility."

Weaver said "core customers have been understanding and appreciative of the fact that we're taking the high ground."

The Tampa plant has a 450-ton daily capacity. When the weather cools off, however, it cranks out between 200 and 350 tons of ice each day.

Ice made at the company's plants in Davie, Opa-locka, Crescent City, New Smyrna Beach and Jacksonville was not affected by the recall.

Neither Weaver nor agriculture officials knew how much of the recalled ice was sold.

"It's fairly widespread," said Terrence McElroy, an agriculture spokesman. "We're trying to track it."

Weaver didn't have the parameters pinned down. He said Reddy Ice sells to seven to 10 independent distributors.

Inspectors said the Tampa plant was expected to be out of service only briefly while the sanitizing process was finished.