Source of Salmonella-Tainted Turkey Still Unclear

Federal experts tracking origin of outbreak that has sickened 77 nationwide since March

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Government experts are continuing to seek the source of an outbreak of salmonella illness linked to ground turkey meat that has killed one person and sickened at least 76 more.

Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said they are looking for the origins of the outbreak that began in March, the Associated Press reported.

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 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. Three of the four samples were traced to the same production center, but the CDC did not name either retailers or manufacturers, the AP said.

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 AP, until that link is proven, it may be difficult for government officials to release information on retailers, distributors or manufacturers implicated in the outbreak.

In the meantime, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) 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."

Speaking to the AP on Tuesday, FSIS spokesman Neil Gaffney said that, "despite an extensive investigation by FSIS and CDC to date, there is little epidemiological information available at this time that conclusively links these illnesses to any specific product or establishment. Without specific enough data, it would not be appropriate to issue a recall notice."

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:

    



  • Wash hands with warm water for at least 20 seconds before touching raw meat or poultry, and wash all utensils, dishes and cutting boards with hot soapy water.
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  • 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.
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  • Safe internal cooking temperatures for meat (including ground beef/pork) is 160 degrees Fahrenheit (F), and 165 degrees F is safe for turkey, chicken and other poultry. Check with a food thermometer.
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  • Be sure to refrigerate raw meat and poultry within two hours after purchase (one hour if temperatures climb above 90 degrees F). Refrigerate cooked meat and poultry within two hours of cooking.
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More information

There's more on salmonellosis at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

HealthDay Staff SOURCES: U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, news release, July 29, 2011; Associated Press

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