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Sacramento County, Calif., resident dies in tainted turkey outbreak

August 2, 2011 |  4:13 pm

Turkey One Californian 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 Salmonella Heidelberg is resistant to numerous commonly prescribed antibiotics and is often difficult to treat. The cases of people falling ill –- which date to at least March 9 –- have been reported by local and state health department authorities in 26 states.

On Tuesday, California health officials confirmed that one person in Sacramento County died, apparently in connection to eating the contaminated meat. Dr. Glennah Trochet, the health officer for the Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services, declined to give any further details about the victim’s age, gender or the date and details of the death.

“The family has requested that no other info be released and we are honoring their wishes,” Trochet said in a statement.

The death was one of six people in California reported to have fallen ill from the outbreak: two in Sacramento County and four elsewhere in the state, according to an official from the state Department of Public Health.

Earlier this week, CDC officials reported that 22 people nationwide have been hospitalized. Those infected range in age from an infant younger than 1 to an 88-year-old person.

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

Salmonella can cause fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain. It 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 Salmonella Heidelberg. 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 the contaminated products, or which farms and processing facilities produced them.

Local, state and federal public health officials say they are using the DNA of Salmonella Heidelberg to track down new cases of illnesses and trace 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 yet called for a product recall, apparently because there’s not yet enough data to do so. Instead, the FSIS 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,” Marler said.

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