Cargill is recalling 36 million pounds of turkey products after an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg killed one and sickened 77 others in the third-largest such recall in U.S. history.
The meats, although processed by Cargill, were listed under many different brand names. The majority was labeled under Honeysuckle White, but other brands include Riverside Ground Turkey, Natural Lean Ground Turkey, Fit & Active Ground Turkey, Spartan Ground Turkey and Shady Brook Farms Ground Turkey Burgers. Other ground turkey products packaged under HEB, Safeway, Kroger's, Randall's, Tom Thumb and Giant Eagle store brands were also recalled. All of the recalled brands include the code "Est. P-963."
The Agriculture Department and Cargill, based in Minnesota, announced the recall after finding that three cases of the illness could be tracked back to products made at the company's plant in Springdale, Ark., from Dec. 20 through Aug. 2.
Illnesses related to the outbreak date back to March, and have been reported in 26 states. Michigan and Ohio had the most reports, with 10 people reporting a related illness. Texas reported nine and Illinois reported seven.
The first indication of an outbreak cluster was reported May 23, but the Centers for Disease Control only presented their findings with Cargill yesterday to begin issuing the product recall. They were first in contact with the company's legal reps last week, according to Dr. David Goldman of the Dept. of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Cargill officials said that all production of ground turkey will be suspended at the Springdale plant until the company can find the source of the contamination.
"Given our concern for what has happened and our desire to do right for our consumers and customers, we are voluntarily removing our ground turkey products from the marketplace," said Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill's turkey processing business.
Two of the three cases, in Ohio and Michigan, were found on July 18 and were traced back to the Cargill plant within two days. The third was found on July 26. Goldman said that the government is now investigating how the Springdale plant became contaminated.
"We are in the plants now evaluating that plant's operations, and we are collecting as much data around this investigation as possible," said Goldman.
Goldman said that the FSIS conducts periodic testing of meat plants to see if they detect any instances of contaminated products. The last time Cargill's Springdale plant was tested was in 2010 -- when three instances of Salmonella Heidelberg were found after a series of tests.
After the government officials were able to trace purchases back to the Cargill plant by using patients' shopper loyalty cards, investigators found that turkey goods produced over several days could have been contaminated -- prompting the huge recall.
Twenty-two people have been hospitalized because of the salmonella poisoning, which is also resistant to antibiotics. Over 38 percent of people sickened with this virus have been hospitalized. The most common symptoms of salmonella are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within 72 hours of eating a contaminated product. It can be life-threatening to people with weakened immune systems, infants and the elderly.
The CDC estimated that 50 million people each year get sick from food poisoning -- and 3,000 die. Salmonella is the cause of most food poisoning, and health officials say that they have made virtually no progress against stopping it.
Government officials say that contaminated ground turkey is safe to eat if handled properly.
Follow These Tips from the CDC to Avoid Salmonella Poisoning
Wash Your Hands Be sure to also wash kitchen surfaces and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry. Then be sure to disinfect surfaces that have been in contact with raw meat using a freshly prepared solution of 1 tablespoon unscented liquid chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water.
Cook Poultry Thoroughly Ground turkey and ground turkey dishes should always be cooked to 165 °F internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer; leftovers also should be reheated to 165 °F. Turkey can remain pink even after cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink. Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, older adults, and persons with impaired immune systems. For more information, visit FoodSafety.gov.
If Served Something Undercooked, Send It Back If you go to a restaurant and noticed your poultry is undercooked -- send it back to the kitchen.
Avoid Cross-Contamination Uncooked meats should be kept separate from produce, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods. Hands, cutting boards, counters, knives, and other utensils should be washed thoroughly after touching uncooked foods.
Refrigerate Refrigerate raw and cooked meat and poultry within two hours after purchase (one hour if temperatures exceed 90° F). Refrigerate cooked meat and poultry within two hours after cooking. Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 40 °F or below.