Turkey Recall Raises Concerns Over Budget Cuts

Over 50 illnesses and at least one death have been proven to be caused by ground turkey produced by Cargill Inc. The meat was contaminated with the pathogen Salmonella Heidelberg. While not as deadly as the German e. coli outbreak, it is troublesome that it took months to warn the public of the contamination. Evidence of possible contamination was discovered more than a year ago at the plant.

Cargill Inc, one of the largest U.S. meat producers, on Wednesday recalled roughly 36 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground turkey produced at its plant in Springdale, Arkansas, after investigators linked the meat to a person who became ill with antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg.

A government agency that tracks antibiotic-resistant pathogens found evidence of the contamination in Cargill ground turkey in early March, and the five-month lapse of time between that discovery and the recall has sparked a renewed debate about how the United States protects the public from tainted meat.

And the company said on Friday that Salmonella Heidelberg was detected at the Springdale plant even earlier than that March discovery.

Routine regulatory testing at the plant in June and July of 2010 found Salmonella Heidelberg on the surface of turkey before it was ground, Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said, but “no corrective action was required because of the low level found.” Martin added that Salmonella Heidelberg is one of the most common of the 2,400-plus strains of Salmonella. [Source]

The CDC investigation resulted in a Class I recall, the most serious of recalls, because of potential death from eating the ground turkey. You can read all the details in the press release on the Cargill, Inc. website and on the Turkey Recall website set up by Cargill, Inc.

Investigators are concerned that budget cuts because of the debt crisis will seriously affect their ability to investigate and report food contaminations.

According to the CDC, food poisoning causes up to 48 million illnesses and over 3,000 deaths in the United States each year. Experts recommend washing your hands and any utensils before and after you handle raw meat and cook it to the recommended temperature. Undercooked meat is more likely to cause illnesses. The FDA recommends washing your hands thoroughly (soap and warm water for 20 seconds) before and after preparation, as well as washing any produce before prepping, and to properly store leftovers at the appropriate temperature. You can find more information in this press release from the FDA, and the article “Food Poisoning Prevention” from WebMD.