THURSDAY, Aug. 4, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. meat processor Cargill announced late Wednesday that it was commencing one of the largest meat recalls in history, involving about 36 million pounds of ground turkey linked to an outbreak of salmonella.
The move may help bring experts closer to the source of the outbreak, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says has killed one Californian and sickened at least 76 others across 26 states since March.
As reported by The New York Times, the recall was announced by Cargill Value Added Meats Retail, a unit of Cargill's meat subsidiary. The company said it would also suspend production at a plant in Springdale Ark., the suspected source of the tainted ground turkey.
"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," Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill's turkey processing business, said in a written statement, The Times reported.
Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the CDC said earlier this week that they had been investigating the origins of the outbreak.
According to the CDC, illnesses have popped up nationwide. The largest numbers of cases are clustered in Michigan and Ohio, with 10 cases each, while Texas had nine illnesses. Cases have also arisen in Illinois (seven), California (six) and Pennsylvania (five). Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin have also reported between one to three cases each.
One death, involving a case in Sacramento County, Calif., has been reported by state officials there, the Associated Press reported. The CDC says cases have been reported each month since March, with the latest reports happening in mid-July. The agency says that more recent cases may not yet have been reported.
According to the agency, cultures taken from four samples of ground turkey obtained from retail outlets between March 7 and June 27 were contaminated with the same strain of salmonella, but that strain has not been definitely linked to the illnesses reported.
Salmonella is a very common pathogen on poultry, and USDA rules restrict the recall of salmonella-tainted poultry until a definite link to illness has been established.
According to The Times, one industry trade journal, WATT Poultry USA, ranks Cargill Value Added Meats as the third biggest processor of turkey in the United States.
Even before the source of the outbreak had been determined, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) had issued an alert July 29 that "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."
According to the USDA, the Salmonella bacterium can cause salmonellosis, which "can be life-threatening, especially to those with weak immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy." Symptoms typically arise within eight to 72 hours and can include fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Chills, headache, nausea and vomiting can also occur and symptoms can last up to a week.
How to Prevent Salmonella Illness From Meat:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service offers up these tips to consumers:
There's more on salmonellosis at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.