Eating ground turkey contaminated with a drug-resistant strain of salmonella… (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)
More than 36 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground turkey are being voluntarily recalled by food giant Cargill Inc. because of the possibility of salmonella contamination.
Health authorities say the poultry could be contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg, a strain of salmonella that killed a California man and caused the illness of 79 others.
Cargill said the ground turkey was produced at the company's Springdale, Ark., facility between Feb. 20 and Aug. 2. Production at the plant has been suspended.
"Given our concern for what has happened, and our desire to do what is right for our consumers and customers, we are voluntarily removing our ground turkey products from the marketplace," Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill's turkey processing business, said in a statement.
He said Wednesday that production of ground turkey will not start up again at the plant "until the source can be pinpointed and actions to address it are taken."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said an investigation "determined that there is a link between the Cargill ground turkey products and the illness outbreak." The recalled products have the number P-963 inside the USDA inspection mark.
"This is, if not the largest, one of the largest class-one food recalls to happen in U.S. history," said William D. Marler, a Seattle attorney who specializes in food safety litigation. A class-one recall involves a health hazard that has a reasonable probability of causing health problems or death.
Over the last six months, local and state health department authorities in 26 states have reported dozens of cases of people falling ill after eating ground turkey. Salmonella Heidelberg is resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics and is often difficult to treat.
On Tuesday, California health officials confirmed that one person in Sacramento County died, apparently in connection with eating contaminated meat. County health officials declined to provide any details about the victim or the circumstances.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported that 22 people nationwide had been hospitalized, with victims ranging in age from younger than 1 to 88.
Salmonella can cause fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain. It can be fatal to young children, older people and those with compromised immune systems.
Cargill Value Added Meats Retail, a unit of Wichita, Kan.-based Cargill Meat Solutions, posted a brief statement on the company website, including an Internet link to a list of recalled products at http://www.cargill.com/turkey-recall/.
Cargill said it launched the recall as a result of an internal investigation and ongoing inquiries by the CDC and the USDA into multiple illnesses from Salmonella Heidelberg.
Cargill owns four turkey-processing facilities in the U.S., and no products from the other three are involved in the recall, the company said.
Staff writer P.J. Huffstutter contributed to this report.