WASHINGTON, D.C. — An examination of a Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak linked to ground turkey illustrates that health authorities must be more aggressive in their efforts to detect and respond to foodborne illnesses, according to a new report by The Pew Charitable Trusts, titled “Too Slow: An Analysis of the 2011 Salmonella Ground Turkey Outbreak and Recommendations for Improving Detection and Response.” In all, the contaminated food sickened a reported 136 people in the United States, hospitalized 37 and killed one, according to government data.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), working with state health departments, took 22 weeks following the first reported illness on February 27 to identify the contaminated food source. On August 3, Cargill began a recall of approximately 36 million pounds of ground turkey products—one of the biggest poultry recalls ever.
The report identified three weaknesses in how the government detects and responds to outbreaks, which must be improved:
“Foodborne illnesses are preventable, so when we experience outbreaks we must learn from our mistakes,” said Sandra Eskin, director of Pew's food safety campaign. “Pew's analysis shows that there are steps public health agencies at the state and federal level can take that may enable them to more quickly identify the likely source of the outbreak, initiate the recall and protect consumers.”
In its report, Pew makes several recommendations to improve foodborne illness surveillance, detection and response.
The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. For more information, visit www.pewtrusts.org.