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Salmonella Outbreak Raises Calls for Food-Inspection Changes

There have been five cases of a salmonella strain linked to turkey in Ohio over the past year. (Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay)
There have been five cases of a salmonella strain linked to turkey in Ohio over the past year. (Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay)
November 21, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio – This Thanksgiving, concerns about salmonella in turkey products are on the table for many consumer groups.

A drug-resistant strain of the bacteria is blamed for more than 160 people falling ill in 35 states in the past year, and one death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Steve Suppan, a senior policy analyst with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says this current outbreak could be the product of 15 years of privatizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture food inspection process.

He says poultry plants can now determine their own line speed – up to 175 birds a minute – making it nearly impossible for inspectors to adequately examine birds.

"The carcasses can have fecal matter on them,” Suppan points out. “The fecal matter is the most likely source of the salmonella.

“So there's, I would say, a relationship between this new poultry inspection system and the salmonella performance failure that needs to be investigated."

Ohio is the ninth largest turkey-producing state in the nation.

The USDA's Food and Safety Inspection Service has identified at least 22 turkey slaughterhouses and seven processing plants where tainted meat has passed through.

But the agency says it would be irresponsible to link producers with an outbreak investigation when a link between a facility and an illness has not yet been made.

Laura MacCleery, policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, advises people to follow the food safety guidelines when preparing turkey for Thanksgiving, or any day.

"Folks should use gloves when they handle the turkey, wash hands very carefully,” she says. “They shouldn't rinse the turkey. They should thaw it in a bag in the fridge and follow all the best safe-handling practices."

There have been five cases of this salmonella strain in Ohio over the past year, and the CDC notes that for every one case that's reported, an estimated 29 aren't.

MacCleery says sometimes people with salmonella infection have no symptoms, while others develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.

"This particular strain has caused one fatality,” she states. “We usually see them as severe complications with regard to people with compromised immune systems, or older people or children.

“You can even have permanent and disabling injuries like organ damage. "

Suppan says another big problem is that workers handling wild birds also are getting sick.

"As long as the U.S. government does nothing but protect the industry, the industry is not going to feel any pressure to change its production practices – and that has to happen," he stresses.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH