ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Agriculture Department says meat giant Cargill is recalling 36 million pounds of ground turkey linked to a death in California and at least 76 other salmonella illnesses.
Illnesses in the outbreak date back to March and have been reported in 26 states coast to coast, including one in Minnesota.
"They share the exact same strain of salmonella which is called Salmonella Heidelberg. There are many strains of salmonella and this one is very dangerous because it's resistant to antibiotics," Mike Sicilia with the California Public Health Department said.
"About 60 percent of poultry is contaminated with salmonella," Dr. Ted Labuza, a long-time researcher and professor with the University of Minnesota's Food Science program said.
Salmonella is perfectly legal and Labuza warns the consumer has a responsibility when preparing the food; in this case ground turkey.
"What the hell does cook thoroughly mean?" Dr. Labuza asks. "If you cook the meat to 165/170 degrees, you're going to kill the organism. That's not the problem; the biggest problem is handling in the kitchen."
Cross contamination is often to blame in the thousands of salmonella sickness cases reported annually in the U.S. The doctor's best advice is to use a paper towel when turning on your faucet after you've handled poultry. If you don't, you're just contaminating that faucet handle, which you'll touch again to turn the water off.
"It's inevitable. It keeps on happening. We have this, especially with poultry," Labuza concluded while talking about the salmonella outbreak.
The Minnesota case was found in late March. In that case, officials say a 70-year-old woman in Carver County became ill. She was hospitalized but later released. State health officials haven't heard of a case since.
Fred Pritzker is an attorney in Minneapolis that handles food borne illness cases nationwide and he is concerned that the cases already reported could just be the tip of the iceberg.
"This is particularly dangerous because of the strain that has already caused one death and there could be many, many more cases that come out of this other than the 76 people already identified," Pritzker said.
The Executive Director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association tells KARE 11 he hasn't heard of where the outbreak came from. It has not been pinpointed to a farm or state yet. There are 450 turkey growing operations in Minnesota.
Cargill announced Wednesday the company has suspended production of ground turkey products at its Springdale, Arkansas, turkey processing facility. Cargill owns four turkey processing facilities in the United States and the company says no products from the other three facilities are involved in the recall.
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