Fans cool the cages of live turkeys at the Cargill turkey processing plant… (Danny Johnston, Associated…)
The Minnesota food company that recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey last month linked to a salmonella outbreak is pulling an additional 185,000 pounds of turkey for the same reason.
The voluntary recall, announced Sunday by Cargill Inc., comes in the wake of one of the largest meat recalls in U.S. history: As of mid-August, health officials had linked a strain of salmonella found in contaminated turkey products to 111 people falling ill in 31 states and at least one death in California.
That recalled meat, which included fresh and frozen ground turkey, was produced at Cargill's processing plant in Springdale, Ark.
The latest recalled turkey came from the same Arkansas Cargill plant. Health officials said that, as in the previous recall, the turkey being recalled might contain Salmonella Heidelberg, a strain that is resistant to most commonly prescribed antibiotics.
Salmonella can cause fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain. It can be fatal to young children, older people and those with compromised immune systems.
The recalled turkey was produced at the Arkansas plant Aug. 23, 24, 30 and 31, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Federal health officials said samples they tested Aug. 24 contained the same genetic strain of S. Heidelberg as seen in the earlier outbreak.
Although the two recalls are strikingly similar, there is at least one key difference: timing.
The first recall was prompted by reports of people getting sick, said William D. Marler, a Seattle attorney who specializes in food-safety litigation.
This time, however, the recall was voluntarily prompted by Cargill's own test results from samples it took: Agriculture Department officials said Sunday that they have not identified any reported cases of people falling ill because of turkey involved in the current recall.
"This is how it should be done," Marler said. Cargill is "treating salmonella like the beef industry treats E. coli O157, as an adulterant" — a substance that may make a product harmful — and is being more quick to respond by removing potentially problematic meat from the nation's food chain.
In a statement, Cargill said it has halted all production of ground turkey at the facility until it can identify ways to eliminate the problem.
The latest recalled products are labeled with the brand names Honeysuckle White, HEB and Kroger, Cargill said. The packages include a label with the establishment number P-963 inside the USDA mark of inspection.
The company urged customers who bought packages of the recalled turkey to return them to the stores where they were bought for a full refund.
"Out of an abundance of caution, we are acting quickly in response to USDA's sample testing," Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill's turkey processing business, said in the statement. "Although there are no known illnesses associated with this positive sample, it is the same Salmonella Heidelberg strain that resulted in our voluntary recall on Aug. 3, 2011."
The turkey recalls are the latest in a string of salmonella outbreaks to rock the nation's food industry this year.
In March, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that cantaloupes from a Guatemala farm were connected to 12 cases of salmonella poisoning. The FDA later concluded that the cantaloupes were imported into the U.S. by Del Monte Fresh Produce. As of June, 20 people had become sick from the outbreak of Salmonella Panama, including two people in California, the CDC said.
In July, a Texas produce company recalled papayas that were contaminated with salmonella that health officials say made nearly 100 people in 23 states ill. That same month, an Idaho company recalled alfalfa and spicy sprouts that were also contaminated with salmonella and caused at least 21 to become ill in five states.
The August turkey recall was one of the nation's largest food recalls ever.
The biggest was in 2008, when Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. recalled 143 million pounds of beef after an investigation into animal cruelty at its slaughtering plant in Chino. The meat included 50 million pounds that had been sent to school lunch programs.