Hannaford supermarkets, Cumberland Farms and Sam’s Club stores in Maine removed products made with Buona Vita meatballs from their shelves last week following a recall because of listeria contamination.

No illnesses have been reported in connection with the tainted meat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even customers who heard that New Jersey-based Buona Vita recalled more than 50 varieties of meatballs, loafs and patties on July 7 probably wouldn’t have connected it to the meat products they bought in stores.

At Hannaford, the meatballs are sold in sauce at the deli counter and, at a few stores, in panini sandwiches. Neither of those products carried the Buona Vita label, said Mike Norton, spokesman for the Scarborough-based grocery chain.

Buona Vita meatballs are included in a kit with dry rigatoni that Sam’s Club buys from Valley Fine Foods, prepares daily in its stores — including those in Augusta, Scarborough 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 a type of Buona Vita meatballs that were not among those recalled. The Massachusetts-based gas station and convenience store chain decided to remove the product from its some 600 stores because the meatballs were manufactured 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 between May 3 and 9 and sold under several labels, after meat taken from a catering company in Ohio tested positive for listeria during 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.

Hannaford, which had to recall 17,000 pounds of ground beef last December after a salmonella outbreak, was notified on July 9 by the supplier of its meatballs in sauce that it uses a Buona Vita product that was recalled, Norton said.

Hannaford was not able to identify the supplier of the tainted ground beef that sickened at least 20 of its customers.

Norton said that around 7 p.m. on July 9, about 50 10-pound cases of meatballs were removed from stores in five states, though he didn’t know in how many of its 181 locations in Maine, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont that occurred.

Norton said the company posted a notice about the recall July 10 on its website 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 news media, he said.

Foster, of Sam’s Club, said that soon after its supplier notified the company that it was carrying recalled meatballs, club members who had bought the product were notified by phone and email. The company did not send out a news release, she said.

Sam’s Club stores nationwide, Cumberland Farms stores in 10 states, and four Hannaford stores — in Bridgton, Wells, Skowhegan and Hinesburg, Vt. — were among a list of retailers that the U.S. Department Agriculture said it 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, which is posted on its website and was last updated on 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.”

USDA could not provide a complete list of Buona Vita’s customers on Wednesday, and messages left at Buona Vita were not returned.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reposted Hannaford’s notice about removing the product on its website Monday, and the information spread quickly after the Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Maine grocery chain had pulled the meatballs from its stores.

Norton said Hannaford decided not to send out its own press release about the recall because the company suspected it would “create confusion.” He said he figured governmental agencies involved would send out a notice about all of the affected retail stores soon after the recall occurred.

There was also less urgency because the stores don’t sell a high volume of the products with the recalled meatballs, and they’re usually eaten right away, not kept in a pantry, Norton said.

However, he said, “in hindsight, we probably should have been more aggressive” about getting the information out sooner.

Norton said notifying governmental agencies that Hannaford was removing the recalled product from its stores was “an additional step” that was “a little unusual.”

Judging by “the flurry” of news in the past couple of days about Hannaford’s role in the recall, he said, it seems other companies probably didn’t take that step.

“We’re glad we did what we did,” Norton said.

 

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