Too Slow: One of Nation's Largest Poultry Recalls Came Too Late

  • April 02, 2013

Salmonella causes more than 1 million foodborne illnesses every year. It is responsible for more hospitalizations and deaths than any other type of bacterium or virus found in food, and its health-related costs to the nation run as much as $11 billion a year. Food is estimated to be the source of 90 percent of all salmonella infections, and contaminated poultry is believed to be a main culprit.

A multistate outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections linked to ground turkey in 2011 sickened 136 people, causing 37 hospitalizations and one death. The Pew Charitable Trusts' analysis of the outbreak found numerous inadequacies in the foodborne illness surveillance system that, if addressed, could help to prevent illnesses and, in some cases, deaths.

An examination of the timeline for the outbreak reveals that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) did not identify the contaminated food source—ground turkey processed at one of Cargill Meat Solutions Corp.'s plants — until 22 weeks after the first person became ill and 10 weeks after CDC detected the outbreak. Cargill's subsequent recall of approximately 36 million pounds of ground turkey products is one of the nation's biggest poultry recalls.

Read the full report, "Too Slow: An Analysis of the 2011 Salmonella Ground Turkey Outbreak and Recommendations for Improving Detection and Response," at the Pew health initiatives website.