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1 dead, 76 ill in salmonella outbreak tied to ground turkey

August 2, 2011 | 11:45 am

One person has died and 76 people have fallen ill from a drug-resistant strain of salmonella that appears to be linked to eating ground turkey, according to federal officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that this strain of Salmonella Heidelberg is resistant to numerous commonly prescribed antibiotics and is often difficult to treat. The cases of people falling ill –- which date back to at least March 9 –- have been reported by local and state health department authorities in 26 states.

Six people in California are confirmed to have been made sick from this outbreak. Twenty-two people have been hospitalized. The people infected range in age between an infant younger than 1 year to a person 88 years old.

So far, California, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Illinois and Pennsylvania have been among the states hardest hit by the outbreak.

Federal officials have declined to release any information about the person who died.

Salmonella can cause fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain, and can be fatal to young children, older people and those with compromised immune systems.

On Monday, the CDC issued a statement saying that investigators had found that four cultures of ground turkey taken from four retail locations between March 7 and June 27 tested positive for this strain of salmonella. Three of the four came from the same manufacturer, according to the CDC. The fourth sample is still under investigation.

Federal officials have declined to name the retailers that sold these contaminated products, or which farms and processing facilities produced them.

Now, local, state and federal public health officials say they are using the DNA of this bacterium to track down new cases of illnesses and trace back the contamination to its source.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which handles oversight for food safety issues involving ground turkey, has not called for a product recall at this time, apparently because there’s not enough data to do so. Instead, the agency last week issued an alert about the outbreak and urged consumers to fully cook and properly prepare their meat.

“As this is an ongoing outbreak, this is likely a frozen product people have in their freezers,” said William D. Marler, a leading food safety litigation lawyer. “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.”

This marks the second time in recent months that turkey has been tied to a salmonella contamination. In April, 12 people fell ill amid a salmonella outbreak that prompted the recall of nearly 55,000 pounds of Jennie-O turkey burgers.


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-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: Turkeys. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times