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36 Million Pounds of Ground Turkey Recalled

Deadly Salmonella Contamination Spurs Third Largest Meat Recall Ever
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 4, 2011 -- Cargill has recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey sold since Feb. 20, the third largest meat recall in history.

Ground turkey processed by Cargill's Springdale, Ark., processing plant is the likely cause of a drug-resistant salmonella outbreak that has killed one person and sickened at least 78 others in 26 states since March 9. The most recent illness was reported on July 24.

"Thirty-eight percent of patients have been hospitalized, higher than the hospitalization rate typically seen with salmonella," Chris Braden, MD, director of the CDC's division of food-borne illness, said today at a news teleconference. "One possible reason is the strain is resistant to ampicillin, tetracycline, and streptomycin. This drug resistance may increase the risk of hospitalization and the risk of treatment failure, which is when a patient does not respond to treatment."

Using shopper cards that allow grocery stores to track customer purchases, investigators traced three salmonella cases back to products from the Cargill plant. "In-plant findings" further link the facility to the outbreak, according to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

Packages of the recalled ground turkey carry the establishment mark "P-963" inside the USDA mark of inspection.

Some of the recalled turkey is unbranded. Brand names so far included in the recall are Fit & Active, Giant Eagle, HEB, Honeysuckle White, Kroger, Safeway, Shady Brook Farms, and Spartan. See below for a full list of the recalled products.

Some of the products were sold to restaurants and other food-service establishments. Others were sold at retail outlets, including:

  • Aldi stores nationwide
  • Walmart stores nationwide
  • Kroger stores nationwide
  • Giant Eagle stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Ohio
  • HEB stores in Texas
  • Ingles stores in South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia
  • Meijer stores in Missouri, Illiniois, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio
  • Stater Brothers stores in California
  • Winco stores in Washington, Idaho, Nebraska, California, and Oregon

The recall does not include other turkey products processed at the Arkansas plant or ground turkey processed at Cargill's other three facilities.

"We have an ongoing evaluation in the Arkansas plant right now. I believe we will get to examining their entire process while engaged there," David Goldman, MD, assistant administrator of the FSIS, said today at a news teleconference.

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."

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