WASHINGTON, Aug. 4- A unit of Cargill Meat Solutions Wednesday recalled some 36 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground turkey products processed at its Springdale, Arkansas, facility since February 20 due to possible contamination with Salmonella Heidelberg bacteria.

It is the largest poultrymeat recall in U.S. history, eclipsing the 27.4 million pounds of ready-to-eat chicken and turkey products called back in 2002 by Pilgrim's Pride from a plant in Pennsylvania after tests found Listeria monocytogenes.

Cargill based its recall decision on what it learned from the USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its own investigation. USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service issued a public health alert July 29 after linking 77 illnesses in 26 states to ground turkey. CDC later said that one of the victims had died in California. In a statement, FSIS said the recall was nationwide, adding that the suspect products included frozen ground turkey in bulk and patties with labels including Honeysuckle White, Riverside, HEB, Kroger, Safeway, Giant Eagle, Shady Brook Farms and Spartan.
Cargill said that it halted ground turkey production at the Arkansas plant until it could determine the source of the contamination and take corrective action. Products from three other Cargill plants in the U.S. are not involved. “While facts continue to be gathered, and currently there is no conclusive answer regarding the source of Salmonella Heidelberg contamination, given our concern for what has happened, and our desire to do what is right for our consumers and customers, we are voluntarily removing our ground turkey products from the marketplace,” said Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill’s turkey processing business. “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,” he said in a statement. “We are closely examining every aspect of our production process and have identified enhancements to our procedures in our efforts to ensure safe food.”

CDC said that the strain of Salmonella was resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics and that resistance can increase the risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals.

Among persons for whom information is available, CDC said, the illnesses began March 9. Victims range in age from less than 1 year to 88 years old. Of 58 with available information, 22 have been hospitalized. Among 51 reported cases, 25 reported having consumed ground turkey. Cultures of four ground turkey samples purchased from four retail locations between March 7 and June 27 had the same bacteria strain that sickened the tested individuals.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who coincidentally was scheduled to talk about food safety Wednesday to the International Association of Food Protection meeting in Milwaukee, said that the investigation was complicated in part because ground turkey was used in many products.


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