For the second time in barely a month, Cargill has voluntarily recalled ground turkey due to tests showing the presence of Salmonella, and has temporarily suspended ground turkey production at its Springdale, AR, processing plant.
Cargill announced the recall of 185,000 pounds of turkey that was processed at the Arkansas plant on Aug 23, 24, 30 and 31, 2011, after a random sample collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service Aug. 24 tested positive for the same Salmonella Heidelberg strain that sickened more than 100 people in 31 states earlier this summer. Twenty-seven people were hospitalized and one person died.
The Springdale plant was closed again Friday, and the recall announced at about 2 a.m. (PDT) Sunday as the nation prepared to observe the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we are acting quickly in response to USDA’s sample testing,” said Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill’s turkey business, in a prepared 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.”
Food safety attorney Bill Marler, publisher of Food Safety News, said it is significant that Cargill is recalling Salmonella-tainted ground turkey without evidence of human illness. “In essence, Cargill is treating Salmonella like it is in fact an adulterant. For that Cargill should be commended.”
Sunday’s recall is small compared to the August 3 recall of 36 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground turkey produced over a period of more than five months.
Following that recall, the Springdale plant was cleaned and the company installed an “enhanced food safety plan” designed to be “the most aggressive and advanced program in the poultry industry,” Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said at the time. The plant was reopened two weeks later, on Aug 18, having increased the level of antibacterial treatment in its turkey processing line.
“The measures that we put in place were showing encouraging results,” Martin told Food Safety News on Sunday. “We were seeing lower numbers of Salmonella positives since those new measures were implemented.”
However, some authorities had remained skeptical. Oregon epidemiologist Bill Keene was sufficiently concerned that he bought 15 packages of Cargill ground turkey in the Portland area and had them tested. Six of the 15 packages tested positive for Salmonella.
Last week’s FSIS test appears to confirm Keene’s suspicions that contaminated ground turkey remained on the market.
“As we all know, Salmonella is a naturally occurring bacteria which is ubiquitous in the environment,” Martin said. “It’s indicative of the challenges the food processing industry faces trying to get its arms around this problem.”
After two consecutive recalls, the Springdale plant might be considered suspect. But that plant is located in the heart of Arkansas poultry country, and it has been producing ground turkey for more than 20 years, Martin said. “And, prior to August 3, it had never had a recall.”
One alternative for safer ground poultry and other meats is irradiation, which effectively kills bacteria without affecting the meat, Martin said. But the industry fears that consumers won’t accept irradiated food, which must be labeled as such.
Meanwhile, the latest recall “strengthens our resolve,” to ensure that its ground meat is not contaminated, Martin said.
The recalled products are:
Fresh Ground Turkey Chubs (chubs are cylinders, or rolls, of ground turkey):
— 16 oz. (1 lb.) chubs of Fresh HEB Ground Turkey 85/15 with Use or Freeze by Dates of 09/12/2011, 09/13/2011, 09/19/2011 and 09/20/2011
— 16 oz. (1 lb.) chubs of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Fresh Ground Turkey with Use or Freeze by Dates of 09/19/2011, 09/20/2011 and 09/21/2011
Fresh Ground Turkey Trays:
— 19.2 oz. (1.2 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Ground Turkey with Use or Freeze by Dates of 09/10/2011 and 09/12/2011
— 48.0 oz. (3 lb.) trays of Kroger Ground Turkey Fresh 85/15 with Use or Freeze by Dates of 09/17/2011, 09/18/2011 and 09/19/2011
— 48.0 oz. (3 lbs.) trays of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Ground Turkey Family Pack with Use or Freeze by Dates of 09/11/2011, 09/12/2011, 09/13/2011, 09/15/2011, 09/17/2011 and 09/18/2011
— 16 oz. (1 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White 85/15 Ground Turkey with a Use or Freeze by Date of 09/11/2011
Fresh Ground Turkey Patties:
— 16.0 oz. (1 lb.) trays of Honeysuckle White Ground Turkey Patties with a Use or Freeze by Date of 09/18/2011
— 16 oz. (1 lb.) trays of Kroger Ground Seasoned Turkey Patties Fresh 85/15 with a Use or Freeze by Date of 09/17/2011
When available, the retail distribution list will be posted on the FSIS website. Consumers who purchased the recalled ground turkey may return them to the retailer. Questions may be addressed by phoning Cargill’s consumer relations toll-free telephone number: 1-888-812-1646.
The company urged consumers to take normal precautions when preparing and cooking ground turkey and other meats. That includes cooking ground poultry to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, as measured by a tip-sensitive food thermometer, and washing with warm, soapy water hands, cutting boards, dishes, utensils or anything else that has come in contact with raw poultry. Keep raw poultry away from foods that won’t be cooked.
“We all need to remember bacteria is everywhere, and we must properly handle and prepare fresh foods,” Willardsen said in his prepared statement. “USDA food safety guidelines can be found on the USDA website.”
The earlier Cargill recall included fresh and frozen ground turkey produced between February 20 and August 2. It followed the determination by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that more than 100 people had been sickened and one had died from Salmonella poisoning attributed to Cargill’s ground turkey.
The CDC estimates that for every illness reported in such outbreaks, more than 30 cases go unreported, meaning that more than 2,000 people may have been sickened over the five months that the Cargill meat was being sold.