A key executive at Topps Meat Co. has spoken of the "tragedy" of the company being forced out of business in the wake of the beef E. coli scandal in the US.

Topps has become a victim itself after becoming embroiled in the second-largest beef recall in US history. Some 32 people appear to have fallen ill after eating the company's hamburgers.

Topps suspended production on 26 September and issued the first of a series of recalls following the first claims that the company was linked to an E. coli outbreak. Just nine days later, Topps admitted it could not survive a recall that had grown to some 21.7m lbs of ground beef.

"This is tragic for all concerned," said Anthony D'Urso, the company's chief operating officer. "In one week we have gone from the largest US manufacturer of frozen hamburgers to a company that cannot overcome the economic reality of a recall this large."

D'Urso added: "Topps has always prided itself on providing the utmost quality and safety and never had a recall in our history until now. This has been a shocking and sobering experience for everyone."

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 32 people in eight states had E. coli infections matching the strain found in the Topps patties. None have died.

Some 87 employees at Topps will lose their jobs, although a handful will stay on for a brief period to help the US Department of Agriculture with its investigation.