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Salmonella will exist after possible threat from turkey passes

August 04, 2011|By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times/For the Booster Shots blog
  • Since breaking off from its close cousin E. coli more than 100 million years ago, the salmonella bacterium has evolved into more than 2,500 strains.
Since breaking off from its close cousin E. coli more than 100 million years… (Karen Tapia-Andersen/Los…)

It’s easy to be the Monday-morning quarterback, but credit the Center for Science in the Public Interest for asking why federal regulators didn’t warn consumers sooner about the possibility that turkey from a Cargill plant in Arkansas might be tainted with salmonella.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture acknowledged Thursday that they may have had hints that the strain of salmonella that has caused one death and more than 20 hospitalizations was tied with the Arkansas plant. But they didn’t even inform Cargill until much later.

The watchdogs at Center for Science in the Public Interest were not happy to hear this. “The failure to issue a public alert earlier or to even notify the company shows a troubling lack of coordination that potentially contributed to the size and severity of the outbreak,” Caroline Smith DeWaal, Center for Science in the Public Interest’s director of food safety, said in a statement.

But even under the best of circumstances, salmonella will remain a threat to our food. As we reported back in 2009 when tainted peanuts wreaked havoc on all kinds of processed foods:

This is salmonella's world. We're just living in it.

The bacterium appeared on the planet millions of years before humans, and scientists are certain it will outlast us too. It's practically guaranteed that salmonella will keep finding its way into the food supply despite the best efforts of producers and regulators.

The scientists who study salmonella are confident that they’ll have lifetime employment trying to figure out ways to fight this microscopic threat:

"There won't be a world without salmonella, period," said Eduardo Groisman, a molecular microbiologist at Washington University in St. Louis. "I haven't kept track recently, but 15 years ago when I last checked in detail, there were at least 100 different animal species in which salmonella had been isolated, from camels to cockroaches."

You can read the full story on the science of salmonella here.

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