A salmonella outbreak resulting in one death and 76 illnesses nationwide has been traced to contaminated ground turkey, like that used in turkey burgers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The outbreak began in March 2011 when the CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) received reports of a number of cases of salmonella Heidelberg, an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella that is often difficult to treat. To date Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, California and Pennsylvania have been most affected by the outbreak. Twenty-two people have been hospitalized.
Public health investigators are currently using DNA "fingerprints" of this bacteria in order to identify cases of illness. Though a public health warning concerning the outbreak was issued on July 29 by the FSIS, and the CDC has matched this particular strain of bacteria to four contaminated ground turkey products, there is reportedly not enough information to issue an official recall at this time.
Salmonella poisoning usually results in diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps during the 12 to 72 hours after a contaminated item is consumed, and symptoms will last for four to seven days, according to the CDC. Most people recover without treatment, but in some -- especially those with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, small children and people with HIV/AIDS -- severe illness and even death can result.
Because the salmonella Heidelberg strain is antibiotic-resistant, those infected are more likely to require hospitalization, the CDC reports.
Just two months ago, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a food safety watchdog, urged the USDA to start testing ground meat and poultry for salmonella Heidelberg and three other difficult-to-treat strains of salmonella, just as they currently test for certain particularly dangerous strains of E. coli. As of now, the USDA has not heeded the recommendation.
"The only thing worse than getting sick from food is being told that no drugs exist to treat your illness. And that's what more consumers will hear if these drug-resistant pathogens keep getting into our meat," CSPI food safety staff attorney Sarah Klein said in a press release at the time.
A smaller salmonella outbreak associated with turkey burgers was also noted by the CDC this past April. It affected 12 people nationwide and resulted in the recall of Jennie-O turkey burgers in Wilmar, Minn.
For concerned consumers, the CDC recommends washing hands, kitchen surfaces and utensils with soap and water immediately after they come into contact with raw meat or poultry. Cook poultry thoroughly; raw and cooked meat and poultry should be refrigerated within two hours of purchase, or one hour if outdoor temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you suspect you may have been infected with salmonella, consult your health care provider immediately.