Ground turkey
Ground turkey has been tentatively identified as the cause of the salmonella infections, but the processor cannot yet be named. Image: Flickr / pathwithpaws / CC-BY-SA

Update, 3:22 p.m. Pacific Time: The USDA has announced a recall of 36 million pounds of ground Cargill brand turkey in conjunction with these infections.

Since March, an outbreak of salmonella infections has sickened 77 individuals and killed one. The infection is proving difficult to treat, as it is resistant to many antibiotics. The government has yet to pin down a cause of this outbreak, though ground turkey is tentatively the culprit.

Outbreak of drug-resistant salmonella

Since March 1, the Centers for Disease Control has reported at least 77 cases of drug-resistant salmonella infections in 26 states. These cases all involve a particular strain of the sickness called Salmonella Heidelberg. The government has not been able to directly link the Salmonella Heidelberg illnesses to any food product in which the bacteria has been found during routine safety sampling in retail stores. Twenty-two individuals have been hospitalized because of the infection to date.

Establishing an infection trail

The biggest challenge the FDA and CDC face in tracking down the Salmonella Heidelberg illness is establishing a strong link between the infections and a particular food product. A tentative link has been established between the illnesses and ground turkey from an unnamed processing plant. However, salmonella is not considered an “adulterant” because it exists in almost all commercial poultry products. It has also been difficult for those sickened by the infection to trace exactly where it came from. Salmonella takes between 12 and 72 hours to develop after the tainted food is consumed. Without a definitive link, the FDA, USDA and CDC do not have the authority to order a recall or name a particular food processor that may be at fault.

Protecting yourself from salmonella

It is very easy to protect yourself from the infection. All ground meats should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, as measured by a thermometer, before they can be safely consumed. Hands, utensils and preparation surfaces should all be thoroughly washed with hot water and soap after touching raw meat of any kind. Food-borne illness is more likely to happen at home because food-safety rules are not always followed as carefully; making sure to wash carefully and cook foods to the right temperature is essential when preparing food to eat. Poultry-based salmonella can be dangerous and deadly, but it is also preventable with proper food preparation.

Sources

CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-20087419-10391704.html
CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/08/02/california.salmonella/
Division of Environmental Health, State of Alaska: http://www.dec.state.ak.us/eh/fss/consumers/food_myths.htm
ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/drug-resistant-salmonella-found-ground-turkey-usda-mum/story?id=14217046

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