USDA Accused of Dragging Feet in Massive Salmonella Recall

After one death, 78 other illnesses, and 22 hospitalizations in 26 states, Cargill Inc. finally issued a recall this week, deemed a Class I by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), for ground turkey linked to an <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/food_poisoning">outbreak of drug-resistant Salmonella. Meanwhile, it appears that the USDA suspected a Cargill link to the outbreak as far back as two weeks ago, but claims it did not have enough information to push for a recall then. What’s more, the outbreak began in March, but federal agencies didn’t begin investigating the Salmonella illnesses until late May.

The USDA felt the timing was warranted. “We need to be sure everything has lined up in a way that we’re convinced,” said Dr. David Goldman, assistant administrator for the Office of Public Health Science for the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, wrote MSNBC.com. The recall was issued Wednesday; Cargill said it suspended production of its ground turkey at the implicated Springdale, Arkansas plan until the contamination source is identified and the matter rectified, wrote MSNBC.com.

The Salmonella pathogen involved is Salmonella Heidelberg, a drug resistant strain that is known to be resistant to three fairly popular antibiotics: ampicillin, tetracycline and streptomycin. Although the strain currently responds to some other antibiotics, when pathogens, such as the foodborne bacteria Salmonella become resistant to antibiotic treatment, treatment options are minimized, treatment becomes significantly more difficult, and patients cannot always be brought back to their presickness state. In some cases, patients, especially in high-risk groups—the elderly, the very young, and those with weakened immune systems—die.

In March, cases of Salmonella Heidelberg were being picked up by the nation’s foodborne illness monitoring system, according to Dr. Chris Braden, director of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said MSNBC.com. Despite this, a full investigation was not initiated until May 23 when the outbreak began to become more widespread. “There was an aggressive and thorough investigation,” Braden said, reported MSNBC.com.

Because some people who did not eat Cargill turkey and who did not eat turkey at all had fallen ill, the investigation was faced with challenges, noted MSNBC.com. Eventually, four samples from retail establishments tested positive for Salmonella Heidelberg, three of which originated from the same Cargill plant, according to the CDC, wrote MSNBC.com. Two of the three came from the same date—July 18th—said Dr. Goldman.

A USDA spokesman, speaking on the promise of anonymity, said, “There was no waiting,” the agency must confirm contamination allegations are “iron-clad” before conversations are initiated with a large food producer, such as Cargill, explained MSNBC.com, which said that this recall is likely the third largest of its kind.

Cargill Value Added Meats Retail, a subsidiary of Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation, announced the recall, which includes ground turkey produced from February 20 through August 2. All of the packages bear the code “Est. P-963″ on the label, the USDA said. According to Cargill, some turkey was sold under Cargill’s Honeysuckle White brand; however, packages were also labeled with an array of other brands, adding to the outbreak’s complexity. Recalled turkey items are listed on Cargill’s recall website, and on the USDA FSIS website.

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