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J&J revamping Tylenol plant, slashing jobs there

By Ransdell Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Johnson & Johnson said on Thursday that it aims to revamp a now-closed Pennsylvania plant that made Tylenol and other consumer medicines recalled in recent months due to quality-control lapses, and eliminate 300 of the factory's employees.

J&J said in a statement that other company plants would help produce medicines once made at the factory while it is retrofitted, and reaffirmed that most of the products were unlikely to become available before the end of 2010.

The company said it employs more than 400 people at the Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, plant.

The company also said it had given the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) an expected "comprehensive action plan" that listed other proposed means of correcting quality shortcomings at its factories.

The problems have led to four major recalls of J&J consumer medicines in the past year, tarnishing the company's reputation and its iconic brands.

J&J said its McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit had begun taking a number of steps to enhance quality controls, and would use outside experts to go further.

One of the biggest recalls was on April 30, when J&J took 40 widely used children's medications off the market, including painkillers Tylenol and Motrin and allergy treatments Benadryl and Zyrtec.

The plant was closed after FDA inspectors said they found thick dust, grime and contaminated ingredients there.

J&J said on Thursday it would refit the plant with new equipment and reorganize its operations, thereby keeping it out of service for a "protracted" period of time.

When the plant reopens, it is expected to require substantially fewer employees than today, J&J said.

J&J said it was looking forward to the FDA's review of its plan and the FDA's feedback. The company said the plan was meant to ensure sustainable compliance with regulatory requirements, as well as with its own standards.

Products made at the plant have annual sales of about $650 million, or about 1 percent of total annual company sales. For that reason, the numerous recalls have posed a bigger threat to J&J's reputation and the image of its consumer brands than to the company's overall earnings.

(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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