February 24, 2021

Turkey Plant May Be Salmonella Link

Federal officials said on Tuesday that they were investigating an apparent link between ground turkey meat and a nationwide outbreak of salmonella illness that has so far killed one person in California and sickened at least 76 more people in 26 states.

No meat has yet been recalled. Federal officials said the evidence found so far pointed to a single ground turkey factory, but they declined to identify it or the company involved.

However, the meat processor Cargill said that it had been contacted by the Agriculture Department and asked to provide information as part of the salmonella investigation.

“We are cooperating with the agency’s ongoing investigation into the source of the illnesses,” Mike Martin, a Cargill spokesman, said in an e-mail message. Food safety advocates said the outbreak was particularly alarming because it involved a strain of salmonella that is resistant to antibiotics. Salmonella illnesses can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever. Many cases do not require treatment with antibiotics, but resistance to the drugs can make severe cases more difficult to treat.

“In the past, U.S.D.A. has acted promptly to recall products when they find outbreaks from antibiotic-resistant salmonella, and it’s urgent that they identify the company and issue a recall here in order to better protect the public,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group.

Neil Gaffney, a U.S.D.A. spokesman, said in an e-mail that so far, there was not enough evidence that “conclusively links these illnesses to any specific product or establishment. Without specific enough data, it would not be appropriate to issue a recall notice.”

Ground turkey is a popular substitute for ground beef for grilled burgers. Ms. Smith DeWaal said that many people might have turned to ground turkey because they think it is healthier or safer than ground beef, which has been associated with illness outbreaks caused by E. coli, also bacteria.

But poultry poses its own risks. Last year, the U.S.D.A. found that 10 percent of ground turkey samples that it tested contained salmonella. Just 2 percent of ground beef samples contained the bacteria, while 19 percent of ground chicken samples were contaminated with the pathogen.

“Ground poultry meat is among the most contaminated products, and consumers really need to understand the importance of thorough cooking and proper handling,” Ms. Smith DeWaal said.

It is not illegal to sell meat contaminated with salmonella; cooking the meat thoroughly can destroy the pathogen.

Last Friday, the U.S.D.A. issued an alert warning consumers to fully cook ground turkey. It said that the meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees and that consumers should check the temperature with a thermometer rather than rely on instructions that tell how many minutes a product should be cooked.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said that people began falling sick in early March with a strain of the bacteria known as Salmonella Heidelberg. Illnesses have been reported in 26 states.

The California Department of Public Health said that one person in Sacramento County died after being infected.

The C.D.C. said that nearly half of the ill people interviewed by investigators reported eating food made from ground turkey in the days before they became sick.

The agency also said that four ground turkey samples tested as part of a routine nationwide sampling program were found to be contaminated with a strain of salmonella that had a genetic fingerprint that matched the outbreak strain. Three of those samples, bought at food stores, came from a single processing plant. Officials were working to identify the origin of the fourth sample.

William E. Keene, a senior epidemiologist at the Oregon Public Health Division, said it was significant that there had been one to 11 new cases reported each week since early March. He said that suggested there was a serious problem at the processing plant, rather than an isolated lot that got contaminated.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8cdaf54fe40957eedcd53388e3bb7dcf

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