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Cargill Turkey Linked to Salmonella Sparks Second-Biggest U.S. Meat Recall

(August 3, 2011)—Cargill Inc. initiated the second-biggest U.S. meat recall, pulling almost 36 million pounds (16,300 metric tons) of ground turkey after a salmonella outbreak linked to one death and 79 illnesses in 26 states.

The Cargill Meat Solutions unit halted ground-turkey output at the Springdale, Arkansas plant that may have produced tainted meat from Feb. 20 to Aug. 2, Wayzata, Minnesota-based Cargill said yesterday in a statement. The recall was prompted by an internal investigation and information from the government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is regrettable that people may have become ill from eating one of our ground-turkey products and, for anyone who did, we are truly sorry,” Steve Willardsen, the president of Cargill’s turkey-processing business, said in an e-mailed statement.

Output of ground turkey was halted in Springdale based on information gathered since July 29, though no definite source of the outbreak has been found, Willardsen said. The company’s other three U.S. turkey-processing plants will remain in operation.

Salmonella bacteria are common to poultry and can be eliminated with proper cooking practices. In a July 29 public- health alert, the USDA reminded consumers that ground turkey should always be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) to kill food-borne bacteria, including salmonella.

Salmonella Heidelberg, a particularly nasty, antibiotic-resistant type of the bacteria, has infected 77 people, killing one in California, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The one death reported among those affected by Salmonella Heidelberg bacteria since March was in Sacramento County, California. Michigan and Ohio reported the most cases as of Aug. 1, 10 each, the CDC said. Texas had nine, Illinois seven and California six.

The largest meat recall in U.S. history was in 2008, when Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. pulled back 143 million pounds of beef, according to USDA records and a 2010 study by the University of Minnesota. Westland/Hallmark had allowed potentially sick “downer” cattle into the food supply.

The next largest had been the 35 million pounds of frozen, ready-to-eat meat products recalled by Thorn Apple Valley Inc. in 1999 because of concern the meat was contaminated with listeria.

Cargill’s recall may cause short-term weakness in demand for turkey products, Karl Skold, an economist and the former head of commodity procurement for Omaha, Nebraska-based ConAgra Foods Inc., said in a telephone interview. Consumers tend to have a “fairly short-term memory,” he said.

“Once it’s removed and the shelves are restocked, most people will go back to buying it,” Skold said. Initially, demand for other products like ground beef or ground chicken may improve as consumers substitute those meats for turkey, he said.

 

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