The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is collaborating with public health officials in many states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) to investigate a multistate outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections that is likely caused by eating ground turkey.
Public health investigators are using DNA technology to analyze information from state and local laboratories to research this strain and have found that it is resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics, which can increase the risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals.
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A total of 77 persons from 26 states have been reported as infected with the outbreak strain between March 1 and August 1. Six of the individuals are from California; 10 victims were reported in Michigan and Ohio, respectively, nine are from Texas and 7 are from Illinois. States will smaller number of reported cases include Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Among persons for whom information is available, illnesses began on or after March 9. The patients range in age from less than one year to 88 years old, with a median age of 23. Forty-eight percent are female. Among the 58 ill persons, 22 were hospitalized and one death was reported.
Investigators discovered that one common thread among those affected was the consumption of ground turkey. Cultures of four ground turkey samples purchased from four retail locations between March 7 and June 27 indicate that three of these products originated from a common production establishment, a fourth is still under investigation. Product information (such as date and location of purchase of ground turkey) is also being collected from ill persons and is being used by local, state and federal public health, agriculture and regulatory agencies to conduct traceback investigations.
On July 29, the USDA-FSIS released a public health alert for frozen or fresh ground turkey products. This alert reminds consumers of the importance of following cooking instructions for frozen or fresh ground turkey products and general food safety guidelines when handling and preparing any raw meat or poultry.
While cooking instructions may give a specific number of minutes of cooking for each side of a patty in order to attain 165 degrees F internal temperature, consumers should be aware that actual time may vary depending on the cooking method (broiling, frying or grilling) and the temperature of the product (chilled vs. frozen). The alert recommends that consumers not rely on the cooking time for each side of the patty, but use a food thermometer.
The color of cooked poultry is not always a sure sign of its safety. Turkey can remain pink even after cooking to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink. If served undercooked poultry in a restaurant, send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
Cross-contamination of foods should be avoided. Uncooked meats should be kept separate from produced, cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods. Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry, including frozen, fresh ground turkey. Then, disinfect the food contact surfaces using a freshly-prepared solution of one tablespoon unscented liquid chlorine bleach to one gallon of water.
Refrigerate raw and cooked meat and poultry within two hours of purchase (one hour if temperatures exceed 90 degrees F). Refrigerate cooked meat and poultry within two hours after cooking. Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 40 degrees F or below.
Persons who think they may have become ill from eating possibly contaminated ground turkey should immediately contact their health care providers. Consumers with food safety questions can visit the FSIS virtual representative 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is 1-888-674-6854.