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36 Million Pounds of Cargill Turkey Recalled as Budget Cuts Weaken Oversight of Food Safety

Food safety advocates say this latest outbreak shows how budget cuts have hampered the ability of federal and state health agencies to effectively protect public health.
 
 
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AMY GOODMAN: In one of the largest meat recalls in U.S. history, this week the food giant Cargill ordered the recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey. The recall comes after at least one person has died of  Salmonella, and another 76 have fallen ill. The turkey products were traced to Cargill’s processing plant in Springdale, Arkansas. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the  Salmonella outbreak involves a strain of the bacteria known as  Salmonella Heidelberg, which is resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics.

Although it was announced this week, the outbreak began in March. According to the  CDCSalmonella cases then spiked in May and early June. Three thousand people die a year from food poisoning in the United States; 50 million people get sick. Food safety advocates say this latest outbreak shows how budget cuts have hampered the ability of federal and state health agencies to effectively protect public health.

 

For more, we go to Washington, D.C., to Patty Lovera, assistant director of the food safety group Food & Water Watch.

Patty, welcome to  Democracy Now! Describe the origins of this latest Salmonella outbreak.

PATTY LOVERA: Hi, good morning.

So, there’s always some activity that state health departments and then the federal government are tracking in terms of people who have what’s suspected to be a food-borne illness, and there’s always a kind of a monitoring effort going on. In this particular case, it took a really long time to tie a set of illnesses, that you mentioned started to spike this spring, to figure out a source of food that was causing them. And it takes a lot of legwork and a lot of kinds of activity on the front lines, which is often local and state health departments, to figure that out. And in this particular case, it seemed to take a very long time to do that. And that’s one of the reasons the amount of food being recalled is so large, because they’re going back and saying the production of ground turkey from this plant from February into August has to be recalled, because the first person got sick in March. They’re kind of extrapolating from that first report. So it’s a huge amount of product because it’s a large plant. It’s also a huge amount of product because it’s such a long period of time where they think that there could have been a problem.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how does a recall work? I mean, we are talking about millions of pounds. What do you do when you’re walking into the supermarket? How does the recall happen?

PATTY LOVERA: That’s a good question. So, recalls are technically done by the company. The federal government can lean heavily on a company to do it, but the company is the—Cargill is the one that put out this recall. Actually, last week, before the recall, the  USDA, who’s in charge of meat and poultry inspection, they put out an advisory to the public saying, we think that we’re tying these illnesses to ground turkey, so we’re putting out this advice to use good precaution and think about cooking temperatures and things like that.

And we need to get more to the bottom of the timing of how all this happened and why it took so long, you know, to do that advisory and then also tie it to a product. But the recall—we don’t like to see recalls that happen this way because someone got sick. There are lots of recalls that happen because the company realizes, oh, something has gone wrong, we sent this product out, let’s get it back. This is not the kind you like to see, where you’re tracing backwards from people who’ve been made sick or, in this case, died.

 
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