WASHINGTON – Federal officials warned Thursday that ground turkey tainted with an especially dangerous type of salmonella may still be in home freezers as they worked to prevent further illnesses from the nation's third largest meat recall.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraged consumers to check their refrigerators for meat that is part of the 36 million-pound recall this week by Cargill, Inc., one of the largest meatpackers in the U.S. The contaminated meat is blamed for 78 illnesses, including one death in California.
"Ground turkey has a long shelf life," Dr. Chris Braden, director of the division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases at the CDC, said. "We're urging people to check packaging on any ground turkey in their homes."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has not pinpointed the source of contamination at Cargill's Springdale, Ark., plant, where the meat originated.
Federal inspectors last tested turkey at the plant in 2010 and had three positive findings for Salmonella Heidelberg there, said Dr. David Goldman, an assistant administrator for the office of Public Health Science at the USDA-Food Safety and Inspection Service.
A USDA spokesman said the agency brought the findings "to the attention of the facility," but would not comment on whether corrective actions were ordered.
A Cargill spokesman said he was unaware of past problems at the plant. The company has idled ground turkey production there as it also investigates.
The illnesses are associated with an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg, which is antibiotic-resistant, making it more dangerous than other more traditional types of the pathogen.
Braden said further cases of illness may be reported in the coming days.
Much of the recalled turkey was sent to Kroger Co. stores. The grocer said Thursday it had removed the product from its shelves and was trying to contact customers who purchased it. The meat, which is sold under brand names including Honeysuckle, Riverside, Fit & Active and Shady Brook Farms, was distributed in 26 states.
The recalled meat is marked with use-by or freeze-by dates from late February through late August.
The recall equals six percent of annual U.S. ground turkey production, and the food industry is trying to gauge the contamination's impact on demand in the weeks and months ahead. Consumers typically avoid affected products for two to four weeks before returning to them, said Thomas Marsh, a professor of agricultural economics at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash.