UPDATE: Cargill recalls ground turkey linked to deaths, illnesses

UPDATE: Minneapolis-based food giant Cargill announced Wednesday, Aug. 3, that it is recalling fresh and frozen ground turkey products that made at a company plant in Springdale, Arkansas, from February 20 through August 2. According to Cargill, the contaminated products are packaged and sold under multiple brand names, including Honeysuckle White, Riverside Ground Turkey, Natural Lean Ground Turkey, Fit & Active Lean Ground Turkey, Spartan Ground Turkey, and Shady Brook Farms Ground Turkey Burgers.

Additionally, the Cargill turkey is also packaged and sold under several grocery store brands: Giant Eagle, HEB, Kroger, Randall’s, Safeway, and Tom Thumb grocery store labels. However, whatever label the turkey is sold under, it all contains the code “Est. P-963” somewhere on the packaging.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is collaborating with public health officials in many states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) to investigate a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections that is likely caused by eating ground turkey. The outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg is resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics; this antibiotic resistance can increase the risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals.

A total of 77 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg have been reported from 26 states between March 1 and August 1, 2011. Collaborative investigative efforts of state, local, and federal public health and regulatory agencies indicate that eating ground turkey is the likely source of this outbreak. Among the 51 ill persons with available information, 25 (49%) reported consuming ground turkey.

Most persons infected with Salmonella bacteria develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. Older adults, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness from Salmonella infection.

CDC, USDA-FSIS, and its public health partners are vigorously working to identify the specific contaminated product or products that are causing illnesses and will update the public on the progress of this investigation as information becomes available.

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.

For more information, including a list of identified cases of Salmonella Heidelberg in various states, visit the CDC online.