From Our 2011 Archives

Salmonella-Tainted Ground Turkey Outbreak Hits 26 States

Salmonella in Ground Turkey Causes 1 Death, 76 Illnesses

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 2, 2011 -- A salmonella outbreak apparently caused by contaminated ground turkey has killed one person and sickened at least 76 other people in 26 states, CDC officials say.

No production source has been identified for the outbreak, and no recall has been put into effect, but the CDC is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state officials to determine the source of the bacterium strain known as Salmonella Heidelberg.

The CDC says cultures of ground turkey samples purchased from four retail locations, which it did not identify, have yielded the strain of salmonella, which is resistant to many antibiotics.

Because of that, the risk of hospitalization caused by the tainted turkey is greater than for other salmonella outbreaks, CDC says.

At least 22 people have required hospitalization; 48% of those sickened have been female, and the bacterium has infected people from younger than a year old to age 88.

Michigan, Ohio, Texas Hardest Hit

Federal officials say Michigan and Ohio have been hardest hit, each with 10 known cases, followed by Texas with nine. CDC officials say one death has been reported. The state in which the death occurred has not been specified. It also reported salmonella illnesses in Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a public health alert for frozen or fresh ground turkey products on July 29, reminding buyers to carefully follow cooking guidelines when handling any raw meat or poultry.

Cooking Instructions

The alert says that while cooking instructions may recommend a specific number of minutes of cooking for each side of a patty in order to attain 165 degrees Fahrenheit internally, consumers should be aware that actual cooking time may vary, depending on whether the meat is boiled, fried, or grilled.

Federal officials say it is important that the final temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit be reached for the food to be safe.

The alert also recommends that consumers not rely on cooking time but use a food thermometer.

Most people infected with salmonella bacteria develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. Illness usually lasts four to seven days.

In some people, the infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. Older adults, infants, and people with impaired immune systems are most at risk of having a severe illness.

According to CDC officials, the illnesses in the current outbreak date back to March. The CDC says it and the USDA are "vigorously working to identify the specific contaminated product or products that are causing illnesses and will update the public on the progress of this investigation as information becomes available."

SOURCES: News release, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.Investigation statement, CDC.Lola Russell, CDC. ©2011 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.