RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—An antibiotic-resistant, virulent strain of salmonella has killed one, sickened nearly 80, and prompted the recall of 36 million tons of fresh and frozen ground turkey, according to industrial food giant Cargill. The strain has been circulating for months as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and budget-slashed state health departments hunted for the source, which now points to Cargill, a company that sources most of its meat and poultry from factory farms. A CDC spokesperson warns that the meat could still be in grocery stores and home freezers, given turkey's long shelf life.
THE DETAILS: Cargill announced its recall Thursday as it halted ground turkey production at its Arkansas plant, the suspected point of contamination. The company announced that ground turkey products produced at the Springdale, AR, plant from Feb. 20, 2011, to Aug. 2, 2011, could be tainted by Salmonella heidelberg, a particularly dangerous, antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella. Illnesses caused by this strain are considered to be more serious, more expensive, and harder to treat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently investigating the plant, but some public health experts blame the routine feeding of antibiotics to nonorganic livestock for a rise in antibiotic-resistant superbugs such as this one.
"Any use of antibiotics selects for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and antibiotics are widely used non-therapeutically in turkey production," explains Keeve Nachman, PhD, assistant scientist and director of the Farming for the Future program at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, part of the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health. "It is absolutely plausible that the antibiotic-resistant Salmonella heidelberg bacteria that infected these 77 individuals developed from the use of antibiotics by producers." Late last year, the Food and Drug Administration released a first-of-its-kind report chronicling the routine use of antibiotics in livestock to boost growth. The agency found that factory farms use a whopping 30 million pounds of antibiotics a year, and that at least 70 percent of antibiotics used in this country are used on animals.
Another group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, has been asking USDA since May to treat this particular strain of salmonella and several others as an "adulterant," which would require new testing to detect contamination more quickly.
Brands recalled are Honeysuckle, Riverside, and Kroger, among others. For a full list, visit FoodSafety.gov