Ground Turkey Scare Makes Me Wonder if My Burger Is Safe

ground turkey

*UPDATE -- Cargill is recalling fresh and frozen ground turkey products produced at the company's Springdale, Ark., plant from Feb. 20 through Aug. 2. All of the packages recalled include the code "Est. P-963." A list of brands included in the recall is after the jump.*

At least 76 people are ill and one has died in a multi-state salmonella outbreak that is most likely linked to contaminated ground turkey, according to government officials. Even more worrisome is the fact that investigators believe this particular bacteria strain -- Salmonella Heidelberg -- is resistant to many common antibiotics, which is bad news for people who fall ill from it.

Despite the fact that so many people have been affected, the government has yet to issue a turkey recall. Neither has it identified the four retail locations that were found to have sold products that tested positive for this strain of salmonella -- even though those products could be in people's freezers as we speak!


So, why isn't the government doing more to protect the public from this potentially deadly illness?

It's simple really: It's because the investigation has yet to turn up any conclusive evidence. Specifically, although the government found ground turkey tainted with salmonella, it hasn't been able to prove it was that same turkey that sickened 77 people and resulted in one person's death. (As you're probably well aware, it isn't illegal for meat to be tainted with salmonella; the only way a product can be recalled is if there is a direct link between the salmonella illnesses and a certain producer -- and this is difficult to establish.)

So for now, we have to make do with a public health alert from U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service telling consumers to properly cook their fresh or frozen turkey until it reaches 165 Fahrenheit on a thermometer -- a recommendation which only decreases the chances of salmonella poisoning instead of telling us how to avoid it altogether.

Many public health experts -- like William D. Marler, a leading food safety litigation lawyer -- think this alert doesn't go far enough:

What FSIS should be saying is don’t eat frozen turkey products until we know what products are safe and what aren’t. They’re not telling the public anything that they can use to help protect themselves.

But as long as the USDA rules that make it hard to investigate and recall salmonella-tainted poultry remain in place, we'll have to continue to fend for ourselves when it comes to avoiding dangerous food-borne illnesses.

Brands in the Cargill recall include Honeysuckle White, Riverside Ground Turkey, Natural Lean Ground Turkey, Fit & Active Lean Ground Turkey, Spartan Ground Turkey and Shady Brook Farms Ground Turkey Burgers. The recall also includes ground turkey products packaged under the HEB, Safeway, Kroger, Randall's, Tom Thumb and Giant Eagle grocery store brands.

*Please note: The ground turkey product pictured above HAS NOT been identified as being contaminated with salmonella.


Image via angeldye/Flickr

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