Cargill announced yesterday that it is recalling almost 36 million pounds of ground turkey products that may be contaminated with antibiotic resistant Salmonella Heidelberg that’s linked to at least 76 illnesses across the United States and one death in California.
The recalled meat came from a meat processing factory in Springdale, Arkansas that produces a variety of different ground turkey products sold with different labels, including one that I see in my supermarket, Shady Brook Farms. The other labels that are affected are: Honeysuckle White, Riverside, Aldi’s Fit and Active Fresh, Spartan, Giant Eagle, Kroger and Safeway.
According to Food Safety News,
Cargill is recalling products produced between February 20 through Aug 2, 2011 and halting production of ground turkey products at the facility until the source of contamination is identified and corrected. Products subject to recall bear the establishment number “P-963″ inside the USDA mark of inspection.
As consumers take to their fridges and freezers to figure out if their ground turkey has been recalled, local, state and federal public health officials are working to identify and link illnesses to the outbreak. At least 77 illnesses in 26 states, beginning as early as March, have been reported to be the same strain of resistant Salmonella.
Those numbers are likely to grow as more consumers learn of the recall. Normally, a low percentage of foodborne illnesses are ever lab-confirmed and thus reported to public health authorities, let alone definitively linked to outbreaks.
“It is regrettable that people may have become ill from eating one of our ground turkey products and, for anyone who did, we are truly sorry,” said Stevel Willardson, president of Cargill’s turkey processing division, in a statement.
What took USDA so long to recall?
If these sicknesses were going around since March, why did it take USDA five months to recall the tainted meat? Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found infected turkey samples as early as March so why did it take so long to alert he public and recall the meats?
Apparently, the samples were tainted but had “not been linked to illnesses” so they did not issue a recall. And Salmonella is not considered an adulterant in meat products, but consumer groups have petitioned USDA to consider antibiotic-resistant strains adulterated.
As late as Tuesday, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) officials said there was not enough evidence to substantiate a recall. (That was before I wrote yesterday’s article here.) Wednesday, FSIS ruled based on their findings, it determined there is a link between the Cargill ground turkey products and the outbreak.
Most people don’t die of Samonella infections but can be life-threatening to those immuno-compromised, the young and the elderly. The most common symptoms of Salmonella infections are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within six to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days. You should see your doctor if symptoms persist for more than seven days.
A complete list and picture of ground turkey products revealed that a popular brand at my local supermarket, Shady Brook Farms, is one of them. Although I buy the “Nature’s Promise” brand at my local supermarket, this recall reaffirms my belief that this type of contamination can happen at any meat packing or processing facility.
So what can we do to not get sick from these types of food-borne illnesses?
Well, stop eating meat is one way to avoid from these tainted bacteria resistant Salmonella. But I know that’s not an option for some people. If you have to eat meat, don’t buy CAFO products but buy them from local farmers. Buying organic meats is better but that does not guarantee that the meats will be pathogen free. The more meat processing facilities the meat has to go through, the risk is higher. Cross contamination is also higher since there are a variety of meats being processed through plants, like Cargill. In 2009, Cargill recalled Salmonella tainted beef due to 40 reported illnesses.
You can check the USDA’s recall site to see which foods are being recalled but you can also set up an alert system so that you will be contacted if there is a recall.