USDA Under Fire for Timing of Salmonella Ground Turkey RecallAug 5, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is taking heat today, after it was revealed the agency suspected a link between Cargill ground turkey products and a 26-state outbreak of drug-resistant Salmonella almost two weeks ago. Despite having suspicions that Cargill's ground turkey was implicated in the outbreak as early as July 18, no recall was issued until Wednesday.
The Cargill recall involved 36 million lbs of ground turkey products. The Springdale, Arkansas, plant where the ground turkey was processed has been shut down while Cargill tries to determine the source of the Salmonella contamination.
Salmonella illnesses linked to the tainted turkey have been reported in Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa , Illinois , Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana , Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio , Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. So far, at least 79 people are known to have been sickened, with one death reported. At least 22 people have been hospitalized.
According to a report from MSNBC, by mid-July, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had obtained four samples of ground turkey from retail stores that all tested positive for the outbreak strain of Salmonella. By July 18, it was determined that two of the samples had all come from one processing plant. By July 26, it was confirmed that a third had also come from the same Cargill facility.
The USDA issued a public health alert to warn the public about the link between ground turkey and the Salmonella outbreak on July 29, but did not mention a specific manufacturer. According to MSNBC, the USDA met with Cargill's legal representatives last Friday, and the recall was not issued until Wednesday.
"They had evidence linking the company to several of the illnesses that went back weeks and possibly months,” Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told USA Today. The government had information that it should have shared with Cargill earlier "so that they could take action to remove potentially contaminated products from the market."
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., has written to both the CDC and USDA with questions about the apparent delay: "Why was there enough data to warrant the USDA's public health alert on July 29 and yet no additional public information or formal recall until the evening of August 3?"
The USDA is defending its actions. "There was no waiting," an unnamed agency spokesman told MSNBC. He added that USDA must make sure allegations of contamination are "iron-clad" before approaching a large producer such as Cargill.
According to USA Today, the Cargill ground turkey recall is believed to be one of the largest in USDA history. The recall includes chubs of fresh and frozen ground turkey, as well as retail trays of ground turkey meat and ground turkey patties. Recalled products were sold under the names Honeysuckle White, Giant Eagle, Riverside, HEB, Kroger, Safeway, Fit & Active, Shady Brook Farms, and Spartan. The products subject to recall today bear the establishment number "P-963" inside the USDA mark of inspection. A complete list of recalled ground turkey products, along with their freeze and use by dates can be found here.
Cargill requests that consumers who may have purchased any recalled ground turkey products return them to the point-of-purchase.
The CDC is warning today that because ground turkey has a long shelf life, much of the recalled product could still be in consumers' freezers. The agency is urging consumers to check packaging on any ground turkey in their homes.