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.

  • Doc Mudd

    Alas, I despair that we shall ever achieve an enviro-foodie utopia wherein we might safely enjoy the primitive sensation of eating raw turkey; nice mushy juicy stringy uncooked bird gliding grotesquely over the tongue.
    Safety tip, kids: cook your turkey, cook your burgers, skip the sprouts (or cook ’em) and at least rinse the dirt and dung off the outside of your goddam veggies.
    OK, then; wash your hands and carry on campers!

  • ecofood

    Brilliant Muddie, are we allowed to eat anything but highly processed grotesqueness, ground up and amalgamated with ingredients that best reflect last quarter’s commodity market? That is all there will be after the people you shill for run small farmers out of business. Much of what is marketed as food is unsafe for human consumption and that is the simple fact. Of the part that is “safe,” much is nutritionally compromised. Oh yeah, BigAg does “educate” us to scorch our food to kill the toxins. And they don’t have any real responsibility for sanitation after we hand them our money for the the deceptively labeled, disease ridden GMOs.
    It is an insult to Americans to run honest farmers out of business to promote commodities that must be sterilized and scorched before consumption. Are those scorched commodities the substances on which humans evolved to be nourished. If you exist, you know that they are not. We have been conditioned to tolerate them in the last couple generations.
    The following is a tragically rich comment from the article.
    “”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.””
    Will a geneticist please reply to the persistence of Salmonella Heidleburg in poultry barns and again review the path by which the organism most likely contaminated this meat. The article suggests that 2000 people were likely sickened, yet Americans continue to purchase and consume this stuff.
    And will a conscientious attorney remind us of the previsions in the, as yet unfunded, Food Safety Modernization Act (2009) which gave FDA legal authority to shut down Cargill in this instance. The law (FSMA09) mandates that ~20,000 inspectors be hired between 2010 and 2014. What if public opinion cries out for for those jobs and the funding? So, am I out on a limb to speculate that Cargill extorted FDA to allow a voluntary recall? Cargill Corp. knows that if 20k conscientious Americans find out what is happening in food production, the secrecy and profits of Cargill and others will be eviscerated.
    Recalling this toxic ground turfreak is not a conscientious or commendable effort, it is a second round of recent recalls that were bound to adversely affect Cargill’s reputation. (Hence the timing on Friday before 9-11-11) I hope that an interested and conscientious editor will post an article noting that these packages say “All Natural.” What the hell does that mean? And that editor may significantly reduce the number of future recalls by including a photo of typical poultry barns and transport. Why do people overlook good food, deny honest farmers an income, and play chicken with toxins, to save a few bucks. I don’t get it. ef

  • Minkpuppy

    OK, I’m getting on my soapbox now because as a FSIS inspector, this is a huge pet peeve of mine: FDA and the FSMA has NOTHING to do with this recall and they have nothing to do with meat products in general. There’s a few frivolous exceptions but ground turkey isn’t one of them. FMSA doesn’t address meat inspection at all. It only addresses produce and FDA inspected items.
    The article clearly states that recall was based on a positive sample conducted by the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) which is part of the USDA. No mention of FDA or FMSA so please leave that out of this discussion. It’s irrelevant to this particular situation.
    FDA and FMSA funding will have absolutely no impact on funding for FSIS meat inspection. 2 seperate agencies, 2 seperate sets of laws and regulations and 2 seperate budgets. Inspection is automatically built into the FSIS budget through the Meat and Poultry Products Inspection Acts–we know how many inspectors we have and how many we will potentially need and ask for the funding accordingly. FMSA doesn’t factor into it and never will. The only thing that worries me about FSIS funding right now is a hiring freeze–that means positions that would normally get filled if someone quits/retires, won’t get filled by a permanent inspector. That will tap out our part-time and relief inspectors so they won’t be available if we need them elsewhere.
    *stepping off the soapbox now*
    FSIS does not have mandatory recall authority so it had to be voluntary regardless of the fact that Cargill already had one recall for the same thing. It hasn’t really been all that necessary in the meat industry to have mandatory recall–most of the meat processors will recall on their own when presented with the evidence of a problem. There’s a few hardheads out there but they usually end up out of business. Sometimes we have to lean on them a little but they will do it on their own.
    The reason there’s still so many recalls is simple: They are allowed to ship their product before they get test results back. That’s what happened here. They didn’t hold the product and now they have to bring it back because my colleagues in Springdale sent a sample in that tested positive. Stupid move: Cargill has the resources to hold product until results come back. They should be operating with an abundance of caution right now. They got too cocky.
    I haven’t bought ground turkey since the first recall because all the stores around here get their turkey from Cargill. I don’t give a rat’s patoot if it comes from a different plant. I’ve worked as a USDA inspector in the poultry industry and I’ve seen it many times: when one plant has too many birds to process, they’ll send the excess over to a sister plant. If the birds are infected with S. Heidelberg, that meat will be contaminated with it regardless of where it’s processed.
    For S. Heidelberg to keep showing up, it means Cargill’s supplier flocks are heavily infected with it. You can’t tell that a turkey is infected by looking at it. It doesn’t make the birds sick–you have to test the birds and their feces to find it.
    I also found out from my poultry industry experience, that the supplier hatcheries can vaccinate the chicks against salmonella which drastically reduces the Salmonella rates in the birds at slaughter. I also learned that not all of the grower houses get cleaned out properly between flocks because of the push for increasing production volumes. Some growers will take shortcuts and just throw new litter on top of the old just so they can get new birds in the houses faster.
    Cargill needs to identify the infected supplier flocks and houses through testing, then get rid of those birds and clean those houses out. No new birds in until the environment tests negative. New birds need to be vaccinated against Salmonella. Oh yeah, and since poultry industry is integrated, Cargill needs to help out the growers with this instead of giving them the shaft. That’s what their alleged service advisors are there for. I still expect to see Cargill growers getting the shaft though.
    It doesn’t matter how many new antimicrobial interventions they add in the plant if the birds have a heavy microbial load coming in. Poultry processing is highly mechanized and if those machines are not set properly for the bird size, they tear open the viscera and spread feces everywhere. After that point, they’re basically washing the poop off and even though you don’t see poop, the bacteria is still there. Chlorinated water is popular but chlorine is inactivated by too much organic matter.
    They need to reduce the prevalence of Salmonella in the poop and in the chickens. “It’s in the environment and we can’t control it” is a cop-out excuse. It can be controlled and reduced by vaccination and proper grower house management. Then, once the birds reach the processing plant, the plant interventions will actually work like they are designed.