David Goldman, assistant administrator for the FSIS Office of Public Health Science, and Chris Braden, director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, painstakingly laid out the complex nature of the investigation that compiled enough evidence for FSIS to take action Wednesday night.
Braden described “a slowly building outbreak at the beginning” with the first reports of illness that developed into a “cluster” in May. Even then, the evidence “did not support a link with ground turkey.” But when four packages of ground turkey, obtained in routine surveillance, showed the same Salmonella strain, it “spurred more intensive questioning of cases [and] eventually did lead to an association with ground turkey.” It was not until July 20, however, that a sample of open turkey in one victim’s refrigerator was linked with samples from Cargill.
In the early phase of the investigation, Braden said, “the retail meat tested was not linked to illness that we knew of in any way.” Investigators were asking patients about exposure to potential sources of food poisoning but “actually were not finding particularly many that had exposure to turkey meat,” he said. “There was a lot of dissonant information at the time.” He said there “may have been 30 or 40 other clusters [of illness] that we were following” simultaneously, not all of which developed into outbreaks of food poisoning.
Braden also cleared up a question about whether the Heidelberg strain (one of about 2,000 kinds of Salmonella) had developed resistance to treatment with antibiotics. While some antibiotics were not effective with that particular strain, he said, it does respond to ciproflaxin, a readily available antibiotic, and one or two other common medications.
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