Image: JoNel Aleccia
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
msnbc.com
updated 8/2/2011 1:15:17 PM ET 2011-08-02T17:15:17

Meat giant Cargill Inc. is recalling nearly 36 million pounds of ground turkey linked to a California death and at least 78 other salmonella illnesses nationwide, company officials said.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the Class I recall, with the highest health risk, late Wednesday. All of the recalled products were produced at the company's Springdale, Ark., plant.

Products include "chubs" of fresh and frozen ground turkey meat, retail trays of ground turkey and ground turkey patties sold at grocery stores including Kroger, Safeway and Giant Eagle, according to company's recall list.

The massive recall follows the death of a Sacramento, Calif., resident tied to an outbreak of salmonella food poisoning that has sickened people in 26 states since March. At the family's request, no details about the death have been released.

In a statement, Cargill officials said the firm was suspending production of ground turkey at the Sprindale plant until it could identify the source of contamination and fix it.

“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, president of Cargill’s turkey processing business, said in a written statement to msnbc.com.

The recall was announced by Cargill Value Added Meats Retail, a subsidiary of the Wichita-based Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation. The company said that some of the ground turkey was sold in supermarkets under the Honeysuckle White brand. The company said it was recalling ground turkey produced at the Arkansas plant from Feb. 20 through Aug. 2.

All of the packages recalled include the code "Est. P-963" on the label, the USDA said. The packages were labeled with many different brands, including Cargill's Honeysuckle White.

Cargill is contacting its customers to make sure they know which ground turkey products are affected by the recall. Consumers are urged to return any opened or unopened packages of ground turkey items listed on the company's recall site: www.cargill.com/turkey-recall.

Hormel Foods, which makes the popular Jenni-O brand of ground turkey, was not contacted by USDA in connection with the outbreak, a company spokeswoman told msnbc.com.

California, which confirmed six cases of salmonella, is among several states with multiple cases of infection blamed on ground turkey. At least 10 people have been reported to be sickened in Ohio and Michigan and nine fell ill in Texas. At least 22 people have been hospitalized after becoming ill with the foodborne bacteria resistant to many commonly used antibiotics.

Earlier reports said at least 77 people had been infected, but USDA officials on Wednesday increased the count to 79.

CDC officials earlier this week said cultures of four ground turkey samples purchased from four retail locations between March 7 and June 27 detected the outbreak strain of salmonella Heidelberg. Early information indicates that three of the samples came from a common production establishment. CDC officials would not identify that establishment, saying those cultures had not been linked to actual illnesses. The agency deferred to USDA for comment.

The samples of salmonella Heidelberg appear to be resistant to commonly used antibiotics. Of 58 people who provided information about their illnesses, 22 had been hospitalized in the outbreak as of Aug. 1. Illnesses that occurred after July 5 may not yet be included in the overall count because of reporting lag time, CDC said.

One recent USDA study found that 10 percent of ground turkey samples examined tested positive for salmonella contamination. Federal testing data also shows that perhaps 80 percent of the salmonella bacteria are resistant to one or more antibiotics, said Steven Roach, a spokesman for the advocacy group Keep Antibiotics Working.

"The biggest thing is salmonella is bad enough as it is, but when it becomes multi-drug-resistant, it can be more difficult to treat," Roach said.

Ground turkey blamed for salmonella death, outbreak

Health officials said even contaminated turkey meat is safe to eat if it is properly cooked, to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, with temperature confirmed by a meat thermometer. But they also urged consumers to follow good food safety practices when using ground turkey, including washing hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat and cleaning all cutting boards and other surfaces well.

States in which illnesses have been reported, and the number of illnesses, follow here: Alabama, 1 case; Arizona, 2 cases; California, 6 cases; Georgia, 1 case; Iowa, 1 case; Illinois, seven cases; Indiana, 1 case; Kentucky, 2 cases; Louisiana, 1 case; Massachusetts, 1 case; Michigan, 10 cases; Minnesota, 1 case; Missouri, two cases; Mississippi, 1 case; North Carolina, 1 case; Nebraska, two cases; Nevada, 1 case; New York, two cases; Ohio, 10 cases; Oklahoma, 1 case; Oregon, 1 case; Pennsylvania, five cases; South Dakota, three cases, Tennessee, two cases; Texas, nine cases; Wisconsin, three cases.

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Video: USDA announces recall of ground turkey

  1. Transcript of: USDA announces recall of ground turkey

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: And we had early warning of this last night. Now it's an official government recall in this country, 36 million pounds of Cargill ground turkey, some of it contaminated with salmonella, believed responsible for at least 76 illnesses nationwide and one death in the state of California . Up next, as

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