An outbreak already infecting 77 people in 26 states with Salmonella Heidelberg prompted an unusual public health alert late Friday about the “critical importance” of safe handling of ground turkey.
alert about all frozen and fresh ground turkey was issued by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its Food Safety and Inspection
Service (FSIS), which regulates meat and poultry. A public health alert
not involving a specific brand or product recall is a rare action for
With the public health alert came the
first notice that the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and
state health departments have identified and are investigating the
multistate outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg.
public health alert was initiated after continuous medical reports,
ongoing investigations and testing conducted by various departments of
health across the nation determined there is an association between
consumption of ground turkey products and an estimated 77 illnesses
reported in 26 states,” the USDA statement says.
and state health departments made the link through epidemiological
investigation and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) analysis,
according to the FSIS. While CDC and the state health departments are
investigating the outbreak, FSIS said it is working to determine the
source of the contamination.
That indicates the
agency does not have enough information to recall specific products,
but is trying to guard against new illnesses by educating consumers
about ground turkey in general.
Bill Marler, food-safety attorney and publisher of Food Safety News,
said he found the timing of the alert, which was issued Friday at 8
p.m. EDT, somewhat perplexing. “This is classic ‘release news when no
one will see it.’ The release, other than saying 77 people in 26 states
are sick from possibly eating ground turkey, gives the consumer no
information — no manufacturer, no states named where people are ill.
from the point of view of ground turkey manufacturers, is it right to
throw the entire industry under the bus?,” Marler asked.
In April, FSIS did conduct a fairly large recall
(54,960 pounds) of frozen, raw turkey products from Minnesota-based
Jennie-O Turkey Store because of Salmonella contamination, but the
serotype in that instance was Hadar, not Heidelberg. Twelve people in 10
states were sickened.
In its news release,
FSIS reminds consumers of “the critical importance of following package
cooking instructions for frozen or fresh ground turkey products and
general food safety guidelines when handling and preparing any raw meat
or poultry” and urges people to use a meat thermometer.
particular, while cooking instructions may give a specific number of
minutes of cooking for each side of the patty in order to attain 165 °F
internal temperature, consumers should be aware that actual time may
vary depending on the cooking method (broiling, frying, or grilling) and
the temperature of the product (chilled versus frozen) so it is
important that the final temperature of 165 °F must be reached for
safety. Please do not rely on the cooking time for each side of the
patty, but use a food thermometer.
turkey and ground turkey dishes should always be cooked to 165 °F
internal temperature as measured with a food thermometer; leftovers also
should be reheated to 165 °F. The color of cooked poultry is not always
a sure sign of its safety. Only by using a food thermometer can one
accurately determine that poultry has reached a safe minimum internal
temperature of 165 °F throughout the product. Turkey can remain pink
even after cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. The
meat of smoked turkey is always pink.”
should also take steps to ensure that raw ground turkey and its juices
do not cross contaminate other foods that won’t be cooked or are already
cooked. Use hot, soapy water to clean up spills on cutting boards,
countertops, dishes and in sinks, and wash hands thoroughly after
handling the meat.
Food contaminated with
Salmonella can cause salmonellosis, one of the most common bacterial
foodborne illnesses. It can be life-threatening, especially to those
with weak immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and persons with
HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy.
most common symptoms of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps,
and fever within eight to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills,
headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.
Heidelberg is a common strain in the U.S. Recently associated with a
number of outbreaks in nursing homes, it was also the strain involved at
A & R Barbeque (also known as A & R Bar-B-Q) in Memphis, the
source of an outbreak in 2009.
outbreaks linked to ground turkey, 26 people were sickened with
Salmonella Saintpaul in 2008 after eating ground turkey at a private
home in Michigan. An outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium at a Minnesota
restaurant in 2000 was linked to ground turkey; four people — two of
them food workers — were infected.