USDA Not Forthcoming on Source of Deadly Salmonella Outbreak in Ground Turkey

The federal agency in charge of protecting America's food supply is keeping quiet on a deadly salmonella strain in ground turkey, which has killed one person and sickened 76 across 26 states.

“We are looking everywhere, and we are doing our best to work with the CDC,” Neil Gaffney, press officer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), told “When it comes to illness, there’s a lot of work and it’s very complicated. We’re trying to pinpoint the product and get it out of the market as soon as possible.”

So far, one person has died and at least 76 people in 26 states have been sickened from the same strain of the disease, which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said is resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics. California Department of Public Health spokesman Mike Sicilia said Tuesday that the death was one of two cases of the illness reported in Sacramento County.

The illnesses date back to March, and the CDC said Monday that cultures of ground turkey from four retail locations between March 7 and June 27 showed salmonella contamination. The agency said preliminary information showed that three of the samples have been linked to the same production establishment but did not name the retailers or the manufacturers.

The Agriculture Department oversees meat safety and would be the agency to announce a recall. The department sent out an alert about the illnesses late last week telling consumers to properly cook their meat, which can decrease the chances of salmonella poisoning. But the department has not given consumers any further warnings about the source of the tainted meat.

Click here to read more about the health alert.

"FSIS has not linked these illnesses to a particular brand, product, or establishment, and therefore has not issued a recall," Gaffney said. "We are continuing to investigate this situation."

Food safety advocate Bill Marler, an attorney who has represented victims of the nation's biggest food-borne illness outbreaks, said he believes the three positive samples should prompt a recall.

"Consumers have no idea what to do except not eat ground turkey," he said.

The illnesses are spread all over the country. The states with the highest number sickened were Michigan and Ohio, 10 illnesses each, while nine illnesses were reported in Texas. Illinois had seven, California six and Pennsylvania five.

The remaining states have between one and three reported illnesses linked to the outbreak, according to the CDC: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

The CDC said 26 states were affected but only listed 25 states in which illnesses were reported in a news release issued Monday evening.

Is It Salmonella?
Salmonella is the most common bacterial form of food poisoning.

Symptoms of salmonella are typically severe and include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight to 72 hours of eating a contaminated product. It can be life-threatening, especially to those with weakened immune systems.

Anyone suspecting they are infected with salmonella should call their doctor immediately.

Click here for more information from the CDC.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.