Ground turkey culprit in Salmonella outbreak

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The CDC believes that ground turkey is likely the source of a Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak involving 76 infections and at least one death.

Since March 9, 26 states have reported illnesses caused by the bacteria, with Michigan and Ohio the hardest hit at 10 cases each, followed by Texas with nine cases. Among 58 ill people with information available, 38% were hospitalized.

Forty-nine percent of 51 patients interviewed reported consuming ground turkey before illness onset compared with 11% of a healthy control group, the CDC reported.

Between March 7 and June 27, CDC investigators cultured the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg in four ground turkey samples purchased from retail locations as part of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System's routine surveillance.

Three of the ground turkey samples originated from a common production facility, but the name of the manufacturer has yet to be released. The CDC is still confirming the origin of the fourth sample.

The CDC warned that Salmonella Heidelberg is resistant to many commonly used antibiotics. Symptoms including diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps usually develop within 12 to 72 hours of infection and typically last four to seven days. Most cases resolve on their own, but those that result in severe dehydrating diarrhea or involve bloodstream infections require hospitalization.

To ensure food safety, consumers should cook ground turkey to an internal temperature of 165° F. Because the color of cooked poultry is not always a reliable indicator of food safety and because cooking times vary based on preparation methods, a food thermometer should be used to accurately determine whether a safe minimum temperature has been reached, the CDC emphasized.

This Salmonella outbreak, along with reports earlier this year of Salmonella Hadar in Jennie-O turkey burgers, has prompted the Centers for Science in the Public Interest to request the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) declare several strains of the bacteria (Hadar, Heidleberg, Newport and Typhimurium) “adulterants” under food law.

This would enable the USDA to test for these Salmonella strains before the food supply reaches the public, similar to Escherichia coli O157:H7 testing first initiated after that pathogen was declared an adulterant in 1994.

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