• Kyodo

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Takizawa Ham Co. said Wednesday it has suspended operations for seven days at its factory in Tochigi Prefecture in connection with a recent outbreak of food-poisoning caused by the O-157 strain of E. coli bacteria.

The move follows an order to this effect issued Tuesday by the Tochigi Prefectural Government, Takizawa officials said.

After employees arrived for work at the factory at around 8 a.m., they were informed of the details surrounding the food poisoning outbreak and the administrative penalty imposed on the firm in its wake. The company, which is based in Tochigi, told its part-time employees to return home and await further notice.

A 31-year-old male employee said he feels sorry for those who have been made ill by the bacteria.

According to Tochigi prefectural officials, roast beef and raw beef products produced at the factory from beef imported from the United States are believed to be the source of the food poisoning outbreak in eastern Japan.

The products in question were contaminated with the bacteria before they were transported to retail outlets.

As of Wednesday, 65 people in Chiba Prefecture had been diagnosed as having been infected with the bacteria. Five people have been reported as being hospitalized in a serious condition, officials of the Chiba Prefectural Government said.

In addition, at least 25 other people have reportedly been infected by the bacteria in Tokyo, Saitama and Ibaraki prefectures, local authorities said.

Meanwhile, Takizawa Ham President Sadao Takizawa told a news conference held at the Tochigi Prefectural Government building on Wednesday that his company has collected about 96 percent of the meat it was ordered by the prefecture to recall by Wednesday morning.

He said the company has collected 1.6 tons of raw beef and 9.2 tons of roast beef.

Takizawa said he feels responsible for the incident and that he was very sorry to learn that a number of children are among those infected.

He said the company will deal with victims of the food poisoning outbreak in a sincere manner and do its utmost to cover medical fees.

The president said he would also investigate the cause of the contamination and take preventive measures in the future.

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