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Food Safety News

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Cargill Recalls 36 Million Pounds of Ground Turkey

Cargill announced Wednesday it is recalling almost 36 million pounds of ground turkey products that may be contaminated with a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella Heidelberg, a pathogen linked to at least 76 illnesses across the United States and one death in California.

The recalled meat came from a single processing facility in Springdale, Arkansas, but ended up in dozens of different ground turkey products sold nationwide under a variety of brand names including Honeysuckle White, Shady Brook Farms, Riverside, Aldi’s Fit and Active Fresh, Spartan, Giant Eagle, Kroger and Safeway.

Cargill is recalling products produced between February 20 through Aug 2, 2011 and halting production of ground turkey products at the facility until the source of contamination is identified and corrected. Products subject to recall bear the establishment number “P-963″ inside the USDA mark of inspection.

As consumers take to their fridges and freezers to figure out if their ground turkey has been recalled, local, state and federal public health officials are working to identify and link illnesses to the outbreak. At least 77 illnesses in 26 states, beginning as early as March, have been reported to be the same strain of resistant Salmonella.

Those numbers are likely to grow as more consumers learn of the recall. Normally, a low percentage of foodborne illnesses are ever lab-confirmed and thus reported to public health authorities, let alone definitively linked to outbreaks.

“It is regrettable that people may have become ill from eating one of our ground turkey products and, for anyone who did, we are truly sorry,” said Stevel Willardson, president of Cargill’s turkey processing division, in a statement.

Cargill’s recall follows a July 29 USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service public health alert, issued last Friday, urging consumers to use caution when handling ground turkey and to cook all poultry products to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Serious questions remain about why it took food safety officials several months to issue a public health alert or announce a product recall after Salmonella Heidelberg illnesses began to spike in March.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also announced that the agency found four retail ground turkey samples to be positive for the same strain of Salmonella Heidelberg between early March and late June. The samples were taken as part of routine sampling for the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), and had “not been linked to illnesses” so they did not spark a recall. Salmonella is not considered an adulterant in meat products, but consumer groups have petitioned USDA to consider antibiotic-resistant strains adulterated.

As late as Tuesday, FSIS officials said there was not enough evidence to substantiate a recall. Wednesday the agency said that epidemiologic and traceback investigations, as well as in-plant findings, led the agency to determine there is a link between the Cargill ground turkey products and the outbreak.

“FSIS is continuing to work with CDC, affected state public health partners, and the company on the investigation. FSIS will continue to provide information as it becomes available, including information about any further related recall activity,” the agency said in a press update Wednesday.

Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, especially to those with compromised immune systems, including the young and the elderly. The most common manifestations of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within six to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days. Individuals concerned about an illness should contact a health care provider.

A complete list of recalled products, with pictures of labels, can be found on the Cargill website.  

© Food Safety News
  • Ben

    Was there no gram of ground beef tested in 6 months of processing, packing, shipping? Where is USDA protecting us consumers? Is everybody waiting until people get sick and try to find out backwards why?!?
    FDA probably knew why they put the consequences on their website end of January 2011 after the FSMA passed.
    http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/ComplianceManuals/RegulatoryProceduresManual/ucm176738.htm
    Here is an easier to read version:
    http://www.fuerstlaw.com/wp/index.php/08/fda-releases-criteria-for-criminal-prosecution-under-park-doctrine/

  • Ted

    Ooops… looks like this little ground turkey recall (36 MILLION pounds!) from USDA Inspected Facilities(!) that are contaminated with a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella (!) (thanks to the regular use of antibiotics (!) needed to keep densely-crowded poultry alive and feeding in those factory Confined Animal Feeding Operations — CAFO — conditions(!)) somehow fell through the cracks, killing and poisoning Eaters (!) — for 5 months now (!)…
    It’s easy to see that industrial Ag system is corrupted from top to bottom– from USDA down to the poultry raising and processing factories. To (partially) quote the MudDoc: it’s caveat emptor, baby, caveat emptor!(!)

  • http://www.qlmconsulting.com Michael

    You can expect once the turkey is recalled that CArgill will cook it and repackage it for immediate sale without a label indicating it’s source…….all legal for now.

  • Minkpuppy

    The product at issue here is ground turkey, not ground beef.
    As an inspector myself, I’m sure testing was done at this plant but I can’t say with what frequency. Ground product usually gets sampled by USDA at least once a month depending on plant size. In my opinion, it isn’t nearly often enough to catch problems when this much volume is being produced.
    However, companies the size of Cargill are usually doing their own testing on a much more frequent basis so I have to ask why THEY didn’t catch it and take corrective action on their own.
    Before anyone starts bashing the in-plant inspectors you need to know this: They can look at the results of the plant’s testing program but they can’t take action on anything they see. So if the plant’s own testing showed high Salmonella results, all the inspector can do is write a Letter of Concern suggesting that they re-evaluate their HACCP plan and SSOP’s.
    I seriously doubt the Agency could do anything even if the USDA test results were positive other than “suggest” a recall.
    If you want the inspectors to be able to act on this stuff, Congress needs to give USDA the power to do so. Considering how well FSMA has turned out, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
    This investigation isn’t over by a long shot.

  • Ben

    Minkpuppy:
    “As an inspector myself, I’m sure testing was done at this plant but I can’t say with what frequency.” What’s the law, how often has to be inspected by USDA and the company. Once a year or what?? They haven’t found anything from February 20 through Aug 2, 2011. Maybe no one is testing anymore so they can’t be blamed putting contaminated food into the supply chain and killing and making people sick as this is a crime according to the Park Doctrine.
    Were the inspectors afraid of a recall hoping the stuff will be recycled by the consumer sooner or later? I hope the lawyers take over to stop this.
    Same with the contaminated papayas. They were contaminated last year, no recall, they were contaminated for months this year and sold in the stores knowing people get sick and die.
    Where are the consumer protection agencies? Who is afraid of whom and why?

  • Minkpuppy

    Ben,
    I know this plant got tested because IT’S FREAKING MANDATORY per 9 CFR 381.94. If we don’t send the samples in when it’s requested by the labs, there’s hell to pay. The District office starts calling and wanting to know why it’s not getting done. An inspector does not want to be on the receiving end of that phone call because it’s likely they’ll end up inspecting in some godforsaken hellhole of a plant in the middle of nowhere.
    The reason I can’t say with what frequency or when they get tested is because I don’t work there and I know nothing about their history. Frequency of salmonella series is based partly on plant volume, partly on previous test results and partly on overall plant performance. If they’ve passed the salmonella series in the past, it may be awhile before they go through another series or they could get a series every 3 months or every 6 months (it can take up to 60 days to complete a series so it can’t be anymore frequent than that). New plants get hit a lot until they establish their history. If the plant is failing fecal zero tolerance checks constantly, they might get targeted for a series. It’s not a set number. A lot of factors figure into it.
    A salmonella series for ground turkey consists of 53 samples (one sample a day until lab gets 53 samples) with a performance standard of 49.9%. That means a maximum rate 29 positives (failures) out of 53 samples but the plant still “passes” the series. That’s over 50% failure rate! If it was a school exam, they would get an F.
    So it really doesn’t matter how often they get tested as long as they “pass” the series. Even if they fail, they get more chances to “pass”. The first set is the A set, if they fail, then they go to a B set, then a C set etc. So it can go on for what seems like forever before the Agency can do anything.
    Now keep in mind, it’s only a small tiny little fraction of the day’s production getting sent to the lab, yet somehow it’s supposed to be representative of the entire day’s production even if they 500,000 lbs of ground turkey.
    NOW DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHY THIS HAPPENED?
    They’re expecting a 25 gram sample to catch Salmonella in thousands of pounds of meat. It’s supposed to be statistically based but I think they’re twisting the statistical confidence level to make it fit.
    The same reg mandates industry sampling and frequency. They’re required to share their results with USDA inspectors but we can’t take regulatory action based on those results.
    Assuming, of course, that they give us the actual results to review. I’ve chased down QC managers in a big chicken plant trying to get lab results and got told, “oh he/she went home for the day and I don’t know the password to get it off the computer” or “We can’t show you our microbiological testing results because it’s proprietary company information”. By the time I actually was provided with results, I was skeptical I was seeing the actual results.
    Be very careful of accusing inspectors of not doing their job. Like any job, we have slackers but most of us are busting our butts trying to protect the consumer It’s hard to do that when your employer won’t back you up. You have no freaking idea how badly our hands are tied by the Agency’s ill-thought out performance standards. The whole Supreme Beef fiasco years ago made it worse–a federal court basically made it impossible for us to enforce salmonella performance standards. The standards are useless because of that one court ruling.
    IT’S NOT THE INDIVIDUAL PLANT INSPECTORS’ FAULT! The inspectors don’t call the shots in these plants.
    It’s FSIS’s spineless policies that lead to this mess not the in-plant inspectors.
    We’re tearing our hair out because we get told “Let the system work” all the damn time when it’s obvious it isn’t working. I wouldn’t be surprised to find tons of fecal zero tolerance failures on the books for this plant. I’ve always wanted to know how many NR’s is enough to prove that the plant’s HACCP plan is not working. I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer.
    If we could, the inspectors would be able to prevent more of these recalls but the G-D D-N AGENCY WON’T LET US. What part of that do you not understand?
    But I guess it’s just easier to bash the inspectors instead of addressing the real problem which is a lack of authority to take any kind of meaningful regulatory action.

  • jmunsell

    Mink Puppy is precisely correct when stating that Inspectors don’t have authority to initiate actions on their own. When FSIS explained the HACCP concept to our industry in the mid-90′s, the agency stated that under the HACCP regimen, the following changes would occur:
    1. Under HACCP, FSIS would maintain a “Hands Off” role.
    2. Under HACCP, FSIS would no longer police the industry, but the industry would police itself.
    3. Under HACCP, FSIS would surrender its previous command and control authority.
    4. Under HACCP, each plant would write its own HACCP Plan, and FSIS could not tell a plant what must be in the company’s HACCP Plan.
    If we literally believe these FSISstatements and comply with them, Mink Puppy and his cohorts have been effectively eviscerated of any meaningful power and authority.
    Welcome to FSIS-style HACCP, which was sold to us as being “science based”.
    John Munsell

  • John Munsell

    Mink Puppy is precisely correct when stating that Inspectors don’t have authority to initiate actions on their own. When FSIS explained the HACCP concept to our industry in the mid-90′s, the agency stated that under the HACCP regimen, the following changes would occur:
    1. Under HACCP, FSIS would maintain a “Hands Off” role.
    2. Under HACCP, FSIS would no longer police the industry, but the industry would police itself.
    3. Under HACCP, FSIS would surrender its previous command and control authority.
    4. Under HACCP, each plant would write its own HACCP Plan, and FSIS could not tell a plant what must be in the company’s HACCP Plan.
    If we literally believe these FSISstatements and comply with them, Mink Puppy and his cohorts have been effectively eviscerated of any meaningful power and authority.
    Welcome to FSIS-style HACCP, which was sold to us as being “science based”.
    John Munsell