The number of illnesses attributed to turkey contaminated with a dangerous strain of salmonella has risen from the 76 reported earlier to 107, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and prevention has said. The outbreak has also spread to encompass 31 states – five more than originally reported.
The outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg, a virulent strain of bacteria resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics, has been linked to ground turkey processed at a Cargill plant in Springdale, Arkansas. Investigators report that the contaminated turkey was produced from February 20, 2011 through August 2, after which plant operations were suspended until the cause could be identified.
Cargill announced a Class I voluntary recall of 18,000 tons of ground turkey on August 3. The turkey recall is one of the largest meat recalls in U.S. history. According to Cargill, the contaminated products were 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.
Experts believe the actual number of people sickened by the contaminated Cargill products is likely far larger because milder cases of infection don’t end up in a doctor’s office or hospital. The symptoms of salmonella poisoning usually develop 12 to 72 hours after infection and typically include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps last from 4 days to a week.
In some cases in which the patient is not treated with antibiotics, the infection can spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites, causing organ damage or death, especially in young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.
According to the website Fair Warning, a routine health inspection of Cargill’s Springdale plant last year found three samples of products contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg. The tainted meat was “brought to the attention of the facility,” but because federal standards allow up to 49.9 percent of meat samples to test positive for salmonella, no action was taken.
Federal regulations allow big corporate food processors to make and sell salmonella-contaminated meat, and usually no action is taken unless an outbreak of illness in the general population is linked to the infected products.