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The Latest Salmonella Outbreak – What took so long?

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There was some disturbing news last week about the latest recall of contaminated meat in the U.S food supply.  Apparently, the latest Salmonella outbreak that has sickened at least 80 people and caused one death was known for quite a while and critics are calling for changes to meat recall rules.

The main source of the outbreak was the Cargill, Inc. plant in Springdale, Arkansas that processed the suspect fresh and frozen ground turkey between February 20th and August 2nd.  The recall was finally announced by Cargill on August 3, 2011.  “I’d say it’s one of the larger recalls,” said Joel Brandenberger, president of the Washington-based National Turkey Federation,  Indeed, that’s the weight of more than 36 fully-loaded Boeing 747 commercial airplanes. The fact that the government and everybody involved worked through this issue pretty quickly to resolve it will maintain consumer confidence in ground turkey,” he said.

Not so fast  Mr. Brandenberger.  Take a look at the following disturbing facts, according to Medscape:

A government agency that tracks antibiotic-resistant pathogens found evidence of the of the contamination in Cargill ground turkey in early March, and the five-month lapse between that discovery and the recall has sparked a new debate about how the U.S. protects the public from tainted meat. And the company said that Salmonella heidelberg was detected at the Springdale plant even earlier than that March discovery.

Routine regulatory testing at the plant in June and July of 2010 found Salmonella heidelberg on the surface of turkey before it was ground, Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said, but “no corrective action was required because of the low level found.” About 10-15% of ground turkey in the U.S. is contaminated with Salmonella.  S. heidelberg and three other antibiotic-resistant strains have been linked to prior outbreaks.

“While determining the food source can be very challenging in an outbreak like this, I think the government unduly delayed in getting both information to the company and in issuing a public warning and recall,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer group.

Poultry and many other types of meat are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which cannot move to recall a tainted product until a link to illness has been made. One of the few exceptions to that is the finding of the particularly lethal bug E. coli O157 in meat, which starts the recall process.

FDA regulates about 80 percent of the U.S. food supply, including lettuce and other produce. It can push companies to recall a food that tests positive even before an illness is reported.

“USDA should take action before people get sick, and require controls and testing for these pathogens before they reach consumers,” DeWaal said.

In contrast, Denmark is doing a much better job. There have been seven recalls of raw poultry in 2011 products due to Salmonella contamination even though no outbreaks had occurred.  The raw turkey products were only suspected and not even confirmed.  Think of the hundreds of illnesses prevented by this policy.

How to Protect Yourself from Salmonella food poisoning

Ground meat should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 Celsius). Check with a food thermometer.

Be sure to refrigerate raw meat and poultry within two hours after purchase (one hour if temperature climbs above 90 degrees F. )

Wash hands with warm water for at least 20 seconds after touching raw meat or poultry and wash all utensils, dishes, and cutting boards with hot soapy water.

Be sure to separate raw meat/poultry from other foods (such as vegetables) that will not be cooked.  Use separate cutting boards for meats, poultry, egg products and cooked foods. The colored coded ones are easy to use and are effective reminders.

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One thought on “The Latest Salmonella Outbreak – What took so long?

  1. Pingback: My Deployment Week From “Hello”…we will just say it was really really awful… « Careknet's Blog

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