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Turkey recall is a good start, but USDA should disclose more information to the public about the ongoing Salmonella outbreak

Consumer Reports urges consumers to take precautions for preparing and cooking turkey safely

November 16, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced late on Thursday that Jennie-O was recalling more than 91,000 pounds of fresh ground turkey – the equivalent of more than 485,000 individual servings – for possible contamination with the strain of Salmonella that has sickened consumers across the nation over the past year.  The move comes just one day after Consumer Reports called on the USDA to release the names of the producers, suppliers, and brands involved in the outbreak.

“The recall is a good start, but considering the millions of turkeys that will be eaten over the holiday, the USDA should give consumers much more information about the results of its ongoing investigation,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumer Reports.  “USDA still hasn’t released the names of the slaughter and processing facilities where it found the outbreak strain through genetic fingerprinting.  The government should publicly identify those plants and the brands produced at those facilities.  USDA also should give consumers guidance on how to check the label code of a turkey at the grocery store, so they can see if it came from a processing facility where this dangerous Salmonella strain was found.”

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.

Neither government agencies nor CR’s experts are advising that you avoid turkey this year — as long as you take important precautions when handling it and cooking it.

“Given the widespread nature of this outbreak and the lack of information about which brands are affected, it would be prudent for everyone to handle and prepare their turkey with the assumption that it could be contaminated with this disease-causing bacteria,” Halloran said.  “This season, more than ever, it is crucial to abide by strict food safety practices when cooking your turkey.”

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. According to the USDA, the safest way to cook stuffing is outside of the turkey, since tuffing can absorb the juices from raw turkey.
  • 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,

Michael McCauley:  mmccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537 (cell) or 415-431-6747, ext. 7606