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Consumer Reports Calls on USDA to Protect Consumers, Identify Turkey Brands Linked to Deadly, Antibiotic-Resistant Salmonella Outbreak

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumer Reports urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture today to identify the brands of turkey that have been linked to a drug-resistant strain of Salmonella in turkey that has sickened consumers across the nation. The outbreak in raw turkey products has been going on for a year, but neither the turkey industry nor the USDA has released any information about which brands are making people sick.

“The USDA should immediately make public which turkey producers, suppliers, and brands are involved in this outbreak — especially with Thanksgiving right around the corner,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumer Reports. “This information could save lives and help ensure consumers take the precautions needed to prevent anyone in their home from getting sick.”

The outbreak of the drug-resistant Salmonella strain, known as Salmonella Reading, has been linked to 164 illnesses in 35 states, including one death in California, and about half of those sickened have been hospitalized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the outbreak has been found in live turkeys and many kinds of raw turkey products, and that it “might be widespread in the turkey industry.” The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has identified the Salmonella strain in samples of raw turkey products collected from 22 slaughterhouses and seven processing plants but has not disclosed these facilities or the names of the companies that operate them.

“Just one week from now, a majority of Americans will be sitting down with their families for a Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey on their plates,” said Halloran. “The USDA must take more aggressive action to make sure the turkeys served this year aren’t contaminated with a potentially deadly strain of Salmonella.” Consumer Reports has called on USDA to classify dangerous strains of Salmonella like this one as an adulterant, so that foods containing them cannot be sold.

Consumer Reports encourages the public to be alert to the symptoms of a Salmonella infection. It usually takes 12 to 72 hours after you have ingested something contaminated with Salmonella to get sick. The key symptoms are diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, and sometimes vomiting. Most people recover from Salmonella without treatment, but in some cases, treatment with antibiotics is required. Young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are especially at risk.

Dangerous bacteria can be killed by cooking a turkey thoroughly. Consumer Reports has the following recommendations for preparing and cooking turkey safely:

  • Cook all turkey to an internal temperature of 165° F before eating. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature throughout the turkey and in any stuffing.
  • Wash your hands frequently, both during and after handling raw turkey.
  • Avoid washing raw turkey before preparing it, because this may spread the germs around your kitchen.
  • Be sure to thoroughly wash all countertops, cutting boards, utensils, and any other kitchen items that come into contact with raw turkey.
  • Don’t give your pets raw turkey. You can get sick if you handle raw pet food and don’t wash your hands properly — and your pets can get sick from Salmonella, too.