Federal officials say new outbreak cases of Salmonella infections linked to raw turkey products have dropped significantly since the deadly outbreak was detected. As of today, 358 people in 42 states have been confirmed infected.

In its “final” outbreak update, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this afternoon said additional illnesses are likely to occur because there is a good chance consumers have the implicated turkey in their home freezers. Freezing does not kill most foodborne pathogens. Poultry must be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F to kill pathogens, including Salmonella.

Of the 358 people who have been laboratory-confirmed with Salmonella Reading infections as part of the outbreak, 133 had to be admitted to hospitals. One person died.

“The number of reported new illnesses has decreased, but people could continue to get sick,” according to the outbreak update. “CDC will continue to monitor the PulseNet database for any new illnesses, and public health partners will continue to investigate any reported new illnesses. 

“A single, common supplier of raw turkey products or of live turkeys was not identified. People could continue to get sick because this Salmonella strain is present throughout the turkey industry, including raw turkey products, packaged raw pet food, and live turkeys.

“… CDC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service shared this information with representatives from the turkey industry, including the National Turkey Federation, and requested that they take steps to reduce Salmonella contamination.”

The most recent confirmed patient reported to the CDC became ill on March 31. It can take four weeks or more for victims to be added to the CDC’s outbreak log because of the lag time between symptom onset, initial testing, followup testing, reporting to local/state public health officials, and data submission to CDC.

The first confirmed patient in the Salmonella Reading outbreak became sick on Nov. 20, 2017. Ill people ranged in age from less than 1 year to 101 years old, with a median age of 42.

More than 300 samples collected from patients, live turkeys, and environmental swabs from turkey businesses showed antibiotic resistant genes, according to the CDC.

The isolates — 180 from ill people and 134 from food, animal, and environmental samples — contained genes for resistance or decreased susceptibility to some or all of the following antibiotics: ampicillin at 52 percent of all 487 isolates; streptomycin at 32 percent; sulfamethoxazole at 31 percent; tetracycline at 32 percent; kanamycin at 3.4 percent; gentamicin at 0.6 percent; nalidixic acid at 0.4 percent; ciprofloxacin at 0.4 percent; trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole at  0.4 percent; and fosfomycin at 0.2 percent.”

Ill people reported buying many different brands of raw turkey products from multiple stores. Also, four of the 200 ill people interviewed became sick after pets in their home ate raw ground turkey pet food . Five of the 200 ill people interviewed worked in a facility that raises or processes turkeys, or lived with someone who did. 

In February this year, 47 people became ill after eating turkey that was not handled properly at an event in Iowa, according to the CDC outbreak update.

Public health officials in Arizona and Michigan collected unopened Jennie-O brand ground turkey from the homes of ill people. Officials in Minnesota also collected raw turkey pet food that was served to pets in ill people’s homes. 

The outbreak strain of Salmonella Reading was identified in samples of the ground turkey and the raw turkey pet food. Whole genome sequencing showed that Salmonella bacteria isolated from ill people, from ground turkey, and from raw turkey pet food were all closely related genetically. In scientific lingo that means they were virtually the same.

“These results provided more evidence that people in this outbreak got sick from eating or handling turkey products,” according to the CDC update.

Several Jennie-O brand ground turkey products were recalled in November and December 2018. Raws for Paws recalled raw turkey pet food in February 2018, and Woody’s Pet Food Deli recalled raw turkey pet food in January 2019.

The outbreak strain was also identified in samples from raw turkey products from 24 slaughter and 14 processing establishments. The samples collected by FSIS at these slaughter and processing establishments were part of FSIS’s routine testing under the Salmonella performance standards.

Information for consumers
Food that is contaminated with Salmonella bacteria usually does not look, smell or taste spoiled. Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection, but infants, children, seniors and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has eaten any of the implicated food and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients need to be hospitalized. 

Older adults, children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

It is possible for some people to be infected with the bacteria and to not get sick or show any symptoms, but to still be able to spread the infection to others.

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