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Deadly Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Ground Turkey

Aug 3, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

On Tuesday, federal officials issued a health alert saying contaminated ground turkey is linked to the nationwide outbreak of salmonella food poisoning.  The evidence so far points to a single ground turkey factory, but officials declined to identify it or the company involved, reported the New York Times.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture contacted the meat processor Cargill, and asked that the company provide information as part of the salmonella investigation. 

Since March, at least 76 people in 26 states have become sick after eating ground turkey, which the Department says is linked to a genetic fingerprint of salmonella detected in fresh or frozen ground turkey consumed across the nation.

According to a report by the Times, one person in Sacramento County died after being infected, said the California Department of Public Health.

Health officials confirmed their findings from roughly 58 people who became ill.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly half of the individuals said they ate food made from ground turkey in the days they became sick.  At least 22 individuals have been hospitalized.

Cultures of four ground turkey samples purchased from retail locations between March 7 and June 27 revealed the outbreak strain of salmonella Heidelberg, said the CDC.  Three of those samples, bought at food stores, came from a single processing plant.  Officials are still working to identify the origin of the fourth sample.

Food safety advocates are concerned because the strain appears to be resistant to many common antibiotics, which could complicate treatment and increase the risk of hospitalization and serious illness.

“In the past, USDA has acted promptly to recall products when they find outbreaks from antibiotic-resistant salmonella, and it’s urgent that they identify the company and issue a recall here in order to better protect the public,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group.

A USDA spokesman said there is not enough evidence that “conclusively links these illnesses to any specific product or establishment.  Without specific enough data, it would not be appropriate to issue a recall notice.”

There has been an increase in the consumption of ground turkey because consumers think the product is healthier or safer than beef, but poultry poses its own risks, says the Times.

Last year, the USDA found that 10 percent of ground turkey samples contained salmonella.  Only two percent of ground beef samples contained the bacteria, while 19 percent of ground chicken samples were contaminated with the pathogen.

Selling meat contaminated with salmonella is not illegal; therefore, the Department advised that fresh or frozen ground turkey be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  The symptoms of salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours post infection.

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