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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Billie Jo Evans

I can't believe they're not letting the public know which brands are effected, my family lives off of ground turkey! I guess we'll be eating tuna and chicken for a long while.

nonmember avatar mm

I really dislike all the misinformation spewing from news agencies. The reason the CDC is mum about which brands is because ALL raw meat has potentially harmfull bacteria: e.g Campylobacteria, Listeria, and Salmonella and Shiga toxin producing Eschercia coli. These are all normal gut flora for animals and the rough deboning and raw meat prep always has the potential to contaminate the meat. The safest bet for everyone is to practice safe food handling and preparation, rather than blanket recall of thousands of pounds of NORMAL raw meat. No doubt there will be recall and people will keep getting food poisoning and 1000s of birds will be wasted.


One more reminder of why I don't eat meat. :)

nonmember avatar mm

..and our vegatbles are fertilized with those same animal wastes or irrigated with contaminated water. Poop happens, safe food handling and prep saves lives and stomaches.

Save recalls for ready to eat foods that should be clean, not raw foods.

Cafe Kim Cafe Kim

There's no misinformation in this article, mm. I explicitly stated that salmonella is common in poultry (i.e. raw meat commonly has potentially harmful bacteria). Just because I think we need to have safer food production laws in this country and hold our producers accountable, too, doesn't mean my information is incorrect.

nonmember avatar Tina

You should be wondering about ALL of your food, not just this turkey. If you care to REALLY know what's in your food, here's a place to start.
BTW: Tuna? How about mercury levels? Chicken? Again, Antibiotic Resistantance is as bad as it is for turkey. Factory farmed food is making us sick and killing us.

nonmember avatar mm

Note that I said "news agencies". I do agree with the majority of you article Kim. The part I disagree with the call for recalls.

Raw meat will never be sterile, unless we start irradiating it or dipping it in antibacterial chemicals before packaging. No thanks. Im more angry that we waste so much food over mass hysteria rather than using common sense (and there will be waste from this health advisory too.) Yes regulation of food quality is important, but only with logical and realistic expectations. We all know we should cook meat and wash vegetables. People getting sick is a reason to remind people of that fact (which you did!), but not a reason to advise them to throw out perfectly good food or start mass hysteria (which the news agencies have done).

Jess Townsend

Cafe Kim: i don't think she was specifically referring to your article, but the news media in general. :)

nonmember avatar Cora Roever

I think to place a picture of Trader Joe's ground turkey will cause people to think their product is one of the sources of the salmonella. Is this fair? Suppose I wrote a blog about a terrorist and put anyone's picture there, like yours, then at the bottom wrote a disclaimer saying this person is NOT the terror suspect we are looking for.

nonmember avatar Shannon

Yes regulation with common sense sounds good, but this is government regulation we are talking about here. Why doesn't the food industry create a self governing body of food industry experts, like ISO9000 or INPO/NSRB, etc. Instead we let the FDA do the deciding and they are socialist at best. Lowering everything to the lowest common denominator(the poorest food processing plant) and using that to base their judgement off of. Instead of using real world techniques treating each place of business as unique and individual.

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