With Thanksgiving a week away, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to warn consumers about an ongoing outbreak of salmonella across 35 states that is linked to raw turkey.
An antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella reading has made at least 164 people ill, and at least one third of them have been hospitalized so far. The strain is also responsible for one person’s death in California. According to the CDC’s map of reported cases, updated on Nov. 5 for the first time since July 19, new cases have been confirmed in states including Arizona, Connecticut, and Oklahoma. Back in July, the ongoing salmonella outbreak had only made it to 26 states.
The strain is present in live turkeys as well as numerous raw turkey products, including food for humans and pets, which the CDC notes could mean the strain is widespread throughout the entire turkey industry. Federal investigators with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have yet to name the sources of the contamination.
Salmonella cases, especially ongoing, multi-state outbreaks, are always public health concern. And this particular outbreak has been under investigation since November 2017, when the CDC first reported cases. With this strain of the bacterium resistant to some antibiotics, it may pose additional cause for concern.
In an open letter published Tuesday, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, D.C.-based food safety and nutrition watchdog, criticized the USDA for not being more forthcoming about the companies and brand names associated with the yearlong outbreak, including slaughterhouses and processing facilities.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture knows more about the turkey products implicated in this outbreak than it is disclosing to the media or the American people,” wrote Sarah Sorscher, CSPI’s deputy director of regulatory affairs. “It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the turkeys headed for our Thanksgiving tables do not harbor antibiotic-resistant bacteria that have caused human illness and death.”
The CDC notes that a single, common supplier of live turkeys and raw turkey products has not been identified.
CSPI directed consumers to the federal food safety guidelines for handling raw poultry, which includes common sense guidelines to follow, outbreak or not, especially around the holidays. The guidelines include thawing frozen turkey on a plate separate from other foods in order to catch any liquid and contain any potential cross-contamination.