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Federal officials, Cargill knew about bacteria in turkey

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cargill announced a recall on August 3 of 36 million pounds of ground turkey that are potentially contaminated with a strain of salmonella that is resistant to many antibiotics. Ground turkey contaminated with salmonella Heidelberg has sickened 77 people and killed one person. It has come to light through a report by The Wall Street Journal that the CDC and USDA knew about the tainted turkey a year ago, but did not do anything about it until recently because of a gap in federal law.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can be found in poultry, but it is not considered by federal law to be a poisonous contaminant, like E. coli, unless it causes illness or death. That means that food safety officials with the government could not move for a recall until after one man died and dozens other were sickened by the contaminated meat.

The USDA found salmonella Heidelberg while inspecting an Arkansas Cargill turkey production plant last year. The officials told Cargill about the findings, but Cargill did not do anything to stop the contamination. The company did not think that the findings were more than routine findings.

A person who is sickened by salmonella Heidelberg is more difficult to treat because the bacteria is resistant to many antibiotics. This means a person may be more likely to need hospitalization in order to recover. Salmonella, and particularly antibiotic-resistant salmonella, can be especially dangerous for babies, older people or people with compromised immune systems.

Source: Fox News, “Government Knew About Bacteria in Turkey,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 10, 2011

John P. Aldrich
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