The Cargill Meat Solutions unit halted ground-turkey output at the Springdale, Arkansas plant that may have produced tainted meat from Feb. 20 to Aug. 2, Wayzata, Minnesota-based Cargill said yesterday in a statement. The recall was prompted by an internal investigation and information from the government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It is regrettable that people may have become ill from eating one of our ground-turkey products and, for anyone who did, we are truly sorry,” Steve Willardsen, the president of Cargill’s turkey-processing business, said in an e-mailed statement.
Output of ground turkey was halted in Springdale based on information gathered since July 29, though no definite source of the outbreak has been found, Willardsen said. The company’s other three U.S. turkey-processing plants will remain in operation.
The one death reported among those affected by the salmonella Heidelberg bacteria since March was in Sacramento County, California, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Michigan and Ohio reported the most cases as of Aug. 1, 10 each, the CDC said. Texas had nine, Illinois seven and California six.
The illnesses have prompted calls for tighter regulation of the U.S. food supply. Poultry needs to be checked for the antibiotic-resistant strain of the bacteria blamed in the outbreak, said the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which in May petitioned the government to require such testing. Future infections are likely without stepped-up federal monitoring, according to Sarah Klein, the Washington-based organization’s food-safety attorney.
“This outbreak represents the urgency of the situation,” Klein said yesterday in a telephone interview. “We need to take a proactive approach.”
Supermarket-chain owner Safeway Inc. (SWY) said some of the recalled product was packaged as “Safeway Fresh Ground Turkey” and sold at its Randalls and Tom Thumb stores in Texas. Those outlets are voluntarily participating in the recall, the Pleasanton, California-based company said in a news release. None of its other operations are affected, Safeway said.
The largest meat recall in U.S. history was in 2008, when Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. pulled back 143 million pounds of beef, according to USDA records and a 2010 study by the University of Minnesota. Westland/Hallmark had allowed potentially sick “downer” cattle into the food supply.
The next largest had been the 35 million pounds of frozen, ready-to-eat meat products recalled by Thorn Apple Valley Inc. in 1999 because of concern the meat was contaminated with listeria.
Cargill’s recall may cause short-term weakness in demand for turkey products, Karl Skold, an economist and the former head of commodity procurement for Omaha, Nebraska-based ConAgra Foods Inc., said in a telephone interview. Consumers tend to have a “fairly short-term memory,” he said.
“Once it’s removed and the shelves are restocked, most people will go back to buying it,” Skold said. Initially, demand for other products like ground beef or ground chicken may improve as consumers substitute those meats for turkey, he said.
Salmonella bacteria are common to poultry and can be eliminated with proper cooking practices. In a July 29 public- health alert, the USDA reminded consumers that ground turkey should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) to kill food-borne bacteria, including salmonella.
Reminding consumers of the need to properly cook turkey, which eliminates salmonella risk, is appropriate for the USDA to do, said Sherrie Rosenblatt, a spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation based in Washington.
Consumer awareness and the current regulation system puts “the proper framework” in place for food safety, said Rosenblatt, whose organization includes Cargill, Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT) and Butterball LLC, the unit of Maxwell Farms LLC and Seaboard Corp. (SEB) that’s the biggest U.S. turkey producer.
The initial symptoms of salmonella poisoning are usually diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Most people recover without treatment. In some cases, hospitalization is necessary, and an infection can be deadly if not treated promptly with antibiotics. The Heidelberg strain of the bacteria is antibiotic resistant.
Older adults, infants and people with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe salmonella illness, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention