On 21 December 1998, the Bil Mar Foods plant in Michigan embarked on one of the largest meat recalls in US history, a US$76m move prompted by the discovery of listeria monocytogenes contamination. This morning, Bil Mar's parent company, the US conglomerate Sara Lee, is in the US District Court in Grand Rapids to register a guilty plea against a federal criminal charge.

Thirty five million pounds of hot dogs and deli meats were included in the massive recall, but genetic fingerprinting meant that meats were eventually traced and linked to a deadly nationwide outbreak of listeriosis. At least 80 people became seriously ill during the outbreak, fifteen people died and six women miscarried,

Carol Tucker Foreman, former head of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, told the Detroit Free Press that it's rare for a major meat company to face criminal charges. She added: "If Sara Lee pled to any sort of criminal charge, that is a major event and not one I expected."