Image: JoNel Aleccia
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
updated 9/29/2011 6:40:14 PM ET 2011-09-29T22:40:14

More people likely have become ill after eating ground turkey contaminated with salmonella, despite a massive recall of 36 million pounds of the meat nearly two months ago by industry giant Cargill Meat Solutions Corp., federal health officials reported Thursday.

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At least 129 people in 34 states have been sickened by salmonella-tainted turkey since Feb. 27, with illnesses reported as late as Sept. 13, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One death has been reported.

Health officials are worried that although the turkey is being recalled from grocery stores, consumers still have contaminated meat in their homes. So far, victims have ranged in age from less than 1 year to 90, with a median age of 23. Of victims with full information available, about 38 percent have been hospitalized.

The outbreak is particularly worrisome because the turkey chubs, patties and other products are often frozen and kept for months. In addition, the strains of salmonella Heidelberg linked to the outbreak are resistant to several front-line antibiotics, which can lead to an increased risk of hospitalization or the chance that treatment won't work at all, CDC officials said.

Illnesses were first reported in March and appeared to peak the week of June 5, according to CDC tracking. But they've continued to be reported long after the Aug. 3 recall of Cargill ground turkey and another recall of an additonal 185,000 pounds of potentially tainted meat on Sept. 11.

Investigators have confirmed the outbreak strains of bacteria in retail samples of ground turkey, from patients' homes and at Cargill's Springdale, Ark., plant.

A July 29 health alert issued by the US Department of Agriculture remains in effect. It reminds consumers to thoroughly cook ground turkey to 165 degrees Fahrenheit and to maintain good hygiene practices when using ground meat.

The recalled products are all ground turkey and bear the establishment number P-963 inside the USDA market of inspection. For a complete list of ground turkey brands and products related to this outbreak, click here.

Salmonella infections cause fever, diarrhea, abdominal cramping within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Illnesses typically last four to seven days and most people recover. Older people, infants, and those with compromised immune systems are at risk for more serious illnesses from the infection.

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