Some of the people sickened in the outbreak reported eating ground turkey processed by different manufacturers. However, the FSIS/CDC investigation has not linked the salmonella outbreak to other ground turkey processors.
Tracing a food-borne illness is a time-consuming process. Sporadic cases of salmonella pop up all the time. Only on May 23 did the CDC become aware that an outbreak had been going on since March. Even then, the FSIS did not have enough evidence to confront Cargill until July 29.
Suspiciously, the FSIS detected Salmonella Heidelberg -- the same strain causing the outbreak -- during routine inspections of the Arkansas plant conducted last year. But salmonella is a very common germ. The ugly truth is that poultry often is contaminated.
"Salmonella can be found in raw poultry products," the CDC's Braden said. "Can we do better in terms of the amount of salmonella that might be out there? We might, and policies are under consideration. But since salmonella is naturally occurring in turkeys and other poultry, it behooves consumers to always handle and prepare poultry products safely."
Symptoms of Salmonella Food Poisoning
Most salmonella infections go away within five to seven days. Often, the only treatment needed is oral fluids. However, people with severe dehydration may need intravenous fluids.
Doctors usually reserve antibiotic treatment for patients whose salmonella infections have escaped the gut and spread elsewhere in the body.
Although the current outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg is resistant to ampicillin, tetracycline, and streptomycin, it remains sensitive to other common antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, ceftriaxone, and Bactrim.
How to Prevent Salmonella Food Poisoning
Here are the CDC's tips on how to prevent salmonella infection:
- Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly to 165 degrees. Don't guess; use a food thermometer.
- Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs or raw (unpasteurized) milk.
- If you are served undercooked meat, poultry, or eggs in a restaurant, don't hesitate to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
- Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
- Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, the elderly, and people with impaired or suppressed immune systems.
- Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, birds, or baby chicks, and after contact with pet feces.
- Avoid direct or even indirect contact between reptiles (turtles, iguanas, other lizards, snakes) and infants or immunocompromised people.
- Don't work with raw poultry or meat and an infant (e.g., feed, change diaper) at the same time.
- Mother's milk is the safest food for young infants. Breastfeeding prevents salmonella infection and many other health problems.