One death and 76 illnesses in 26 states have been linked to an antibiotic-resistant strain of Salmonella in ground turkey, according to an announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Salmonella Heidelberg infections were reported between March 1 and August 1, 2011.
Salmonella Heidelberg is a bacterium that can cause infection when contaminated food or drinks are consumed. Those infected with the bacterium generally experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort. Treatment is dependent on the severity of the symptoms, the age of the patient, and other conditions the patient may have, such as diabetes.
Salmonella Heidelberg is resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics, which can increase the risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals.
The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: AL (1), AZ (2), CA (6), GA (1), IA (1), IL (7), IN (1), KY (2), LA (1), MA (1), MI (10), MN (1), MO (2), MS (1), NC (1), NE (2), NV (1), OH (10), OK (1), OR (1), PA (5), SD (3), TN (2), TX (9), and WI (3).
Among persons for whom information is available, illnesses began on or after March 9, 2011. Ill persons range in age from less than 1 year to 88 years old, with a median age of 23 years old. Among the 58 ill persons with available information, 22 (38%) have been hospitalized. One death has been reported.
Public health investigators are using DNA “fingerprints” of Salmonella bacteria obtained through diagnostic testing with pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, or PFGE, to identify cases of illness that may be part of this outbreak.
Cultures of four ground turkey samples purchased from four retail locations between March 7 and June 27, 2011 yielded Salmonella Heidelberg with the outbreak strain. Product information (such as date and location of purchase of ground turkey) is also being collected from ill persons and is being used by local, state, and federal public health, agriculture, and regulatory agencies to conduct traceback investigations.
On July 29, 2011 USDA-FSIS released a public health alert for frozen or fresh ground turkey products. This alert reminds consumers of the critical importance of following package cooking instructions for frozen or fresh ground turkey products and general food safety guidelines when handling and preparing any raw meat or poultry.
The alert advises that, in particular, while cooking instructions may give a specific number of minutes of cooking for each side of the patty in order to attain 165°F internal temperature, consumers should be aware that actual time may vary depending on the cooking method (broiling, frying, or grilling) and the temperature of the product (chilled versus frozen); therefore, it is important that the final temperature of 165 °F must be reached for safety. The alert recommends that consumers not rely on the cooking time for each side of the patty, but use a food thermometer.
Anyone who thinks they may have become ill from eating possibly contaminated ground turkey should consult their doctors.