Public health and regulatory officials are under pressure to identify the turkey brands linked to the recent salmonella outbreak.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the outbreak started in November 2017. As of Nov. 5, 2018, 164 people in 35 states have been infected. Sixty-three people have been hospitalized and one person in California has died. The states most affected include Texas, Minnesota, Illinois and New York.
Consumer Reports on Wednesday called on the USDA to list the brands associated with the drug-resistant strain of salmonella with Thanksgiving about a week away.
“The USDA should immediately make public which turkey producers, suppliers, and brands are involved in this outbreak — especially with Thanksgiving right around the corner,” Jean Halloran, director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumer Reports, said in a statement. “This information could save lives and help ensure consumers take the precautions needed to prevent anyone in their home from getting sick.”
However, USDA-FSIS stated today, “To be abundantly clear, FSIS has NOT identified a source or supplier of the product or products that are making consumers ill, but we continue to work around the clock with our federal and state public health partners to solve this.”
Salmonella infection can cause symptoms of what is commonly referred to as “food poisoning.” Symptoms include fever, stomach aches and diarrhea which typically develop within 12 to 72 hours after being exposed to the bacteria. Most people recover within four to seven days without treatment. Sometimes the illness can be so severe that people need to be hospitalized; this could be for severe diarrhea leading to dehydration, or if the infection spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream and other places in the body. People at higher risk for severe illness are children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 65 and people with weakened immune systems.
The strain of salmonella causing the outbreak has been found in samples from live turkeys, raw turkey products and turkey pet food in Minnesota, the CDC said. It has also been identified in samples of raw turkey products from slaughterhouses and meat processors.
“The salmonella strain isolated from these samples is closely related genetically to the salmonella strain from ill people,” the CDC said.
The CDC is not advising consumers to avoid eating properly cooked turkey products or that retailers stop selling raw turkey products. It recommends handling raw turkey carefully, including washing your hands before and after preparing or eating turkey. Counters, cutting boards and utensils should also be thoroughly washed to prevent the spreading of germs from raw turkey to food preparation areas. Cooking raw turkey thoroughly (to an internal temperature of 165°F, measured by placing a thermometer in the thickest part of the food) will help prevent food poisoning. Feeding raw meat to pets is also discouraged.
Johanna Kreafle, M.D. is an emergency medicine physician at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.