WASHINGTON - 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.
The Agriculture Department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday they are still looking for a source of the outbreak, which dates back to March, and Cargill indicated that it had been in contact with the USDA.
California state health officials said Tuesday that the one death was in Sacramento County.
The CDC said Monday that cultures of ground turkey from four retail locations between March 7 and June 27 showed contamination with the same strain of salmonella, though those samples were not specifically linked to the illnesses. The agency said preliminary information showed that three of those samples have been linked to the same production establishment but it did not name the retailers or the manufacturers.
The lack of information so far from government officials may be attributed to USDA rules that make it harder to investigate and recall salmonella-tainted poultry. Because salmonella is common in poultry, it is not illegal for meat to be tainted with the pathogen. Officials must directly link the salmonella illnesses with a certain producer or establishment, which is difficult to do because people don't always remember what they ate or where they bought it.
In an earlier outbreak, almost 55,000 pounds of frozen raw turkey burgers were recalled in April. The salmonella strain that prompted that recall was found to be resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics, according to the CDC. The illnesses were reported in at least 10 states. There was no immediate word on whether the outbreaks were linked.
The current illnesses are spread all over the country. The states with the highest number sickened were Michigan and Ohio, 10 illnesses each, while nine illnesses were reported in Texas. Illinois had seven, California six and Pennsylvania five.
The remaining states have between one and three reported illnesses linked to the outbreak, according to the CDC: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Ground turkey is considered safe to eat when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees during cooking. For turkey patties or burgers, internal temperatures on each side should be measured. The government also advises refrigerating meat promptly and washing hands for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat or poultry.
The CDC estimates that 50 million Americans each year get sick from food poisoning, including about 3,000 who die. Salmonella causes most of these cases and federal health officials say they've made virtually no progress against it.
The most common symptoms of salmonella are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight hours to 72 hours of eating a contaminated product. It can be life-threatening to some with weakened immune systems.