LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ Officials with Hudson Foods lied to the U.S. government for more than a week before the largest meat recall in the country's history was ordered, a prosecutor told a federal jury today.

Hudson initially ordered a limited recall of ground beef in 1997, even though company workers knew more ground beef was potentially contaminated with the E. coli bacteria, said assistant U.S. attorney Jan Sharp.

A recall of 25 million pounds of ground beef did not begin until the government discovered on its own that there was more potentially contaminated meat, Sharp said in opening statements.

The government claims Hudson and two company workers lied and conspired to lie to the government about the scope of the problem.

In defense opening statements, an attorney for Hudson Foods denied there was a conspiracy, and denied that anyone lied to the govenment.

Hamburger produced at Hudson's Columbus plant was linked to an outbreak of E. coli contamination in July 1997 in Colorado, leading to a nationwide recall the following month.

As a result of the recall, the plant was closed and later sold to IBP Inc.

A grand jury in December indicted Hudson, which has since been sold to Tyson Foods; plant manager Brent Wolke; and Michael Gregory, Hudson's director of quality control.

The indictment alleges Arkansas-based Hudson Foods and Wolke and Gregory falsely told the federal food inspectors they knew the source of all the tainted ground beef that existed. It also accuses the three of conspiring to provide false information to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Wolke and Gregory pleaded innocent to one count of providing false information and one count of conspiracy. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each of the two counts against them.

The company, which also pleaded innocent, could face $500,000 in fines.