Wampler's tweets on H1N1 flu

Sausage company tries to get facts out as false links made, fears spread

As fears of the H1N1 flu continue to spread, Lenoir City-based Wampler's Farm Sausage is turning to Twitter to educate and reassure customers about the virus commonly referred to as swine flu.

"What we're trying to do is to post factual information about H1N1," President Ted Wampler Jr. said Friday. "There's no correlation between pigs and the flu. It shouldn't have been called swine flu."

Wampler and his daughter Martha, who started the Twitter page, have been tweeting links to various articles since Wednesday to stem off a misperception that it's possible to catch swine flu by eating pork. Twitter is a social-networking service.

While the sausage company has not felt a slowdown in business, there is concern as countries like Russia and China have established bans on the import of pork products, Wampler said.

"As these stories get out, it could begin to do more damage than good," he said, noting that the business isn't taking extra precautions. "What we do is above and beyond already. Just because something is called swine flu hasn't changed anything for us."

The swine flu scare has created a rush at local medical supply stores for surgical masks, in particular the N95 mask, which is 95 percent efficient in filtering airborne particles.

"We started hearing about the flu last Friday, and on Monday, it kind of skyrocketed," said Stephanie Benson, manager of Smitty's Surgical Specialties at 2010 Middlebrook Pike.

Smitty's had six cases of N95 masks come in on Friday, but those were presold. Vendors that aren't sold out have started to restrict what the store can order, Benson said, noting that it has started a waiting list that includes individuals and government agencies.

Lambert's Health Care, which has locations at 4901 N. Broadway and 11390 Parkside Drive, also has been sold out of N95 masks. A shipment that came in on Friday had already been presold.

"We have tried to order from four to six different manufacturers, and they're all out," said Yvonne Coffey, medical general manager for Lambert's, which sold about 400 masks at its Broadway location alone on Thursday. "They're going like crazy."

Meanwhile, other area businesses said they were taking precautions.

On Friday, Knoxville-based TVA notified its 11,500 employees, including 960 in Knoxville, to discontinue all travel, including within the state, unless it was deemed critical to the mission of the organization.

And any employee who has traveled outside the U.S. or to any area with a high concentration of the flu is expected to stay home for 72 hours. The decision was part of the utility's implementation of phase two of its pandemic planning activities, which acknowledges human cases have occurred and calls for general precautionary measures, TVA spokesman John Moulton said. This is the first time TVA has implemented phase two.

"It's strictly precautionary. We're taking steps to be safe and to ensure that TVA would have sufficient staff to operate," Moulton said.

Regal Entertainment Group said this week it has plans in place to address the impact of the flu.

CEO Mike Campbell told investors during a conference call Thursday that Regal was monitoring the situation but that the flu had not had any impact on attendance.

"We have issued directives throughout the management staff to ensure that the facilities are safe for both staff and guests," Campbell said. "We are also monitoring and following the directions and guidance of state and federal health officials to assure that our guests and staff are safe."

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Pork producers say phrase 'swine flu' is hog wash

LENOIR CITY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Area pig producers are not taking a liking to the name Swine Flu.

In fact, they say it hurts business seeing as how the flu isn't transmitted by pigs or eating pork.

But keeping their pigs free of contamination, is a job they take very seriously.

Just how stringent are safeguards for pork?
Very strict.

When the people at Wampler's heard i was going to a hog farm today too, they made me schedule their visit first.

And I could only visit one part of the plant.

All because of contamination concerns.People in the hog industry say the connection to swine flu is hog wash.

"Just today I've been asked twice, does the swine flu originate in the pig. Is it caused from eating pork?"

Hog farmer Jonathan Pierce says the misconception is causing an issue for the pork industry.

He says food safety for you starts at his farm where he asks visitors if they've visited a hog farm before his that day.

"If so, their visit has stopped right here."

Pierce says plastic boot covers provide a barrier between you and his stock.

But that pig eventually finds its way to places like Wampler's Farm Sausage where bacteria is the biggest concern but dealt with by an hour and a half time it takes to go from a live hog to frozen sausage.

"The speed doesn't give the bacteria time to log or to reproduce and of course when you take it to ten degrees it stops everything."

Ted Wampler says putting barriers between workers and meat product is also key.

"Put on a cloak, we go through foot baths, you have to sanitize your hands, anything that would be going into the plant."

At night, Wampler says the whole plant is sanitized.

"Our goal is to be as clean as a hospital operating room."

Even technology is playing a role where finished product is scanned for the smallest things and if detected, they're rejected from the line.

"I've not had a tooth claim for a piece of gristle or bone in our product since 2002."

With all these safety standards, Wampler says swine flu is not in the mix.

"It's very unfortunate that it got called that because it really has nothing to do with swine."

Saturday morning, Pierce says he will have several pigs in Blount County at Heritage High School for the students in the Future Farmers of America program.

He says there will be a livestock judging and he expects to talk to the students about Swine Flu and the misconceptions of it.

Also, Wampler's has a Twitter account which also talks about those misconceptions as well.

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