News media is abuzz with the announcement by Cargill, a major U.S. meat processor, that its Value Added Meats Retail business is voluntarily recalling about 36 million pounds of ground turkey produced at the company’s Springdale Arkansas facility.  This is a Class 1 recall of significant scope and involves ground turkey product produced from February 20, 2011 through August 2, 2011, a period extending five months. Ground turkey production at the suspect Arkansas production facility has been suspended pending the pinpointing of the source of the infection within the plant.

According to the Cargill press release, the company is initiating this recall as a result of an internal investigation as well as information and investigations from both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) linking an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg with ground turkey products.  The Cargill release also contains a listing of the products and consumer brands impacted.

Thus far the CDC has noted that 77 persons have been infected across 26 states. One person has died. The CDC also notes in its detailed update that cultures of four ground turkey samples were obtained from four retail locations. Three of the cultures originated from a common production plant while the fourth is still under investigation as to origin.

What makes this recall ever more concerning is that the suspected strain of Salmonella Heidelberg has been resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics, which increases the risk of required hospitalization or possible treatment failure for those infected. Another disturbing development is that more drug-resistant strains of food infection are making a presence.  Supply Chain Matters readers will recall our coverage of the food borne outbreak of E.coli that recently impacted northern Germany and patients in other European countries.  That particular strain of E.coli was noted as extremely virulent and toxic with resistance to eight classes of antibiotic drugs.  The source of that infection was preliminarily traced to sprouts grown and distributed from a small organic farm in northern Germany. While Salmonella and E.coli are totally different forms of infection, the tendency for these new strains to be resistant to standard antibiotic treatment is very troubling. Why it has taken U.S. FDA health agencies multiple months to pinpoint and make awareness to the infections is also concerning.

Federal health authorities continue to warn consumers take precautions to thoroughly wash hands and utensils that have been in contact with raw meat and to thoroughly cook all poultry products to 165 degrees.

From a supply chain perspective, this latest incident of food infection will need to be monitored to ascertain if any other production facilities or brands are involved. The CDC and FSIS both indicate that investigations are ongoing and public updates will be made as information becomes available.

Supply Chain Matters complements Cargill for the openness and candor communicated in its press release. There is a statement that public health and the safety of consumers cannot be compromised, along with a statement of regret and apology for those consumers who were sickened by product. On the other hand, the open question is why these abnormal conditions were not discovered or acknowledged earlier.

We trust that Cargill will continue to follow-through on its current investigation of root cause and take swift corrective measures, as required.