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The Turkey Tribulations: Another Round of Salmonella in Birds

Posted in Outbreaks & Recalls,Salmonella on July 24, 2018

An outbreak of Salmonella first reported earlier this year in February is now affecting people. That particular outbreak was primarily linked to contaminated raw turkey pet food fed to dogs. As of July 22, 2018, this strain of Salmonella has infiltrated virtually every type of turkey product, including ground turkey, turkey pieces, live turkeys, and raw turkey pet food. This outbreak is especially concerning due to the antibiotic resistant strain of this type of Salmonella and its widespread presence in so many types of turkey products.

At this time, the CDC reports that 90 individuals have become sickened across 26 states, and over half of those have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. The outbreak dates back to November of 2017. States affected include Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. The states with the most reported illnesses are Minnesota, New York, Illinois, and Texas.

More Information from the CDC

Health investigation teams use the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of outbreaks, including this one. PulseNet is a national network of public health and food regulatory agency labs that are coordinated by the CDC that uses various techniques on salmonella bacteria that is isolated from people who have become sickened, and it involves DNA fingerprinting of the strain.

In this case, interviews were conducted with ill individuals regarding the foods they ate in the week preceding their illness. Of the 61 people that were interviewed, 61% reported preparing or eating turkey products that were purchased raw (ground turkey, turkey pieces, and whole turkeys). Additionally, these individuals reported buying many different brands of raw turkey products from multiple stores. This outbreak strain of Salmonella Reading is present in live turkeys and in many types of raw products and is indicative that it may be widespread throughout the turkey industry. A single, common supplier of raw turkey products or of live turkeys has not currently been identified. This strain of Salmonella Reading is extremely antibiotic-resistant, which explains the high percentage of hospitalizations for this outbreak.

How Turkey is Regulated

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is the national agency responsible for the reporting of outbreaks of infectious disease such as those presented by foodborne illnesses. This information is frequently replicated by the FDA in order to ensure timely information to the public. However, the FDA does not regulate safety procedures for the poultry industry. This task is governed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) under the aegis of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). All those acronyms and agencies can be confusing, but given the sheer enormity of food products, the division of food safety tasks is necessary.

Turkeys are raised according to strictures designed to reduce the risk of the possible infiltration of contaminants.  According to the USDA,

“USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) conducts activities to reduce the risk of disease in flocks of laying hens. The agency administers the voluntary National Poultry Improvement Plan, which certifies that poultry breeding stock and hatcheries are free from certain diseases. Participation is necessary for producers that ship interstate or internationally. Each year during the month of May, millions of turkey eggs are put into incubators. After about 4 weeks of incubation, a baby turkey (poult) is hatched. The poults are then moved from the hatcheries to barns that are environmentally controlled, providing maximum protection from predators, disease, and bad weather. For the next 4 to 5 months (depending on the desired market weight), these turkeys roam freely around the barn, eating their way through many pounds of feed (consisting mainly of corn and soybean meal along with a supplement of vitamins and minerals).”

The FSIS also requires each turkey plant to implement Sanitary Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs). This means that all plant employees use these procedures in handling all equipment, tools, as well as hand-washing. Additionally, any packaging that may touch turkey parts, including giblets are clean and protected from potentially dangerous chemicals or materials. Turkey plants are also required to analyze the processes by which they produce whole turkeys and turkey products under a plan known as a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP). Veterinarians and inspectors from the FSIS then check each day to see that SSOPs and the HACCP plan are followed. Turkeys are randomly tested for E.coli as well as Salmonella, and continue through processing as whole birds or parts and are washed frequently and kept chilled to prevent the growth of bacteria. But it is precisely this “ice wash” into which turkeys are placed that is the likely source of contamination. When the birds are washed to keep the temperature cold, they swirl around in a bacterial bath, resulting in cross-contamination. Further problems can arise when these turkeys, already possibly contaminated, make their way into the packaging facility, where they encounter cutting machines and tools, and employee hands.

Be Careful When Feeding Your Dog Raw Turkey Products

Feeding your dog raw turkey products is not recommended by the FDA. In fact, this recent outbreak is associated with a recall that included Raws for Paws Ground Turkey Pet Food for Pets. Two children in Minnesota became infected with Salmonella Reading after feeding this product to their pets. This outbreak also includes two individuals who handled raw turkey pet food while feeding it to their dogs. Investigations conducted by the FSIS have revealed that this outbreak contains a Salmonella bacterium that is genetically similar to that of the turkey pet food that sickened these individuals, indicating that people became sick after handling turkey products. If you insist on feeding your dog raw pet food, it is imperative that pet dishes, the floors and areas around where you feed your pet be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Did you know that Salmonella can survive for weeks on home surfaces?

Don’t Be a Turkey

Since bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella as well as others can exist in raw turkey and other poultry products, it is essential to practice the following steps when handling the meat:

  • Wash your hands before and after preparing or eating food, after contact with animals, and after using the restroom.
  • Cook raw turkey Turkey breasts, whole turkey, and ground turkey should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and leftovers to the same temperature as measured by a food thermometer.
  • Wash hands, counters, cutting boards and utensils with hot, soapy water after they touch raw turkey. WASHING/RINSING turkey is NOT recommended. (Did you know that the water can aerosolize into the surrounding air by three feet)?

If you experience any of the following symptoms of a Salmonella infection, contact your physician in order to confirm the diagnosis. This type of infection/illness typically lasts four to seven days.

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps (sometimes severe)
  • Fever

The CDC is not advising that consumers avoid eating properly cooked turkey products. Make Food Safe will continue to monitor this outbreak and apprise you of any additional pertinent information including confirmation of its source when it becomes available.

By: Kerry Bazany, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)