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People began falling ill in November 2017—but the CDC didn't notify the public until now because they couldn't identify the source of the outbreak.

Zee Krstic
July 20, 2018

Ninety people in 26 different states have suffered infections from disease-resistant salmonella after handling or consuming raw turkey products since November, 2017—upwards of 40 individuals were hospitalized since then due to serious conditions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Thursday. The federal agency partly responsible for consumers' safety isn't launching a recall or asking Americans to lay off turkey, but their investigation into this outbreak yielded a need to caution the public about preparing and cooking raw turkey. No deaths have been linked to this outbreak as of yet. 

You might ask why we're just hearing of this salmonella outbreak now: Laura Gieraltowski, one of the leaders of the food-borne outbreak response team at the CDC, told Consumer Reports that the agency chose to not alert the public because they were unable to find a common source that sparked the sicknesses. The CDC still has not found a source of the contamination or pinpointed one manufacturer, production space, or farm to explain why so many have fallen ill, Gieraltowski says. 

Since the first cases of salmonella poisoning were reported nine months ago, there have been many possibilities about the source of the contamination. Some victims had handled or eaten ground turkey. Others consumed turkey breasts or drumsticks. And of course many had purchased whole turkeys—more than 46 million turkeys were consumed during Thanksgiving last year.  

“We have ill people that are reporting lots of different types of turkey products with lots of different brands, and purchasing them from many different locations,” Gieraltowski told Consumer Reports. The CDC advises people to also take precautions when it comes to feeding your pet: Two illnesses in the outbreak occurred in homes where people fed their pets raw turkey. (Though there are many advocates of feeding pets raw food, we recommend against it.)

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While the CDC has been unable to discover what is fueling the slow-but-steady spread of salmonella, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service claims that it has found the strain of salmonella linked to the 90 cases in various turkey processing facilities. It also has spotted the particularly viral strain of salmonella in 19 different slaughtering facilities and six different processing plants. According to an official announcement, both the CDC and the USDA are working with representatives within the turkey industry to try and prevent further contamination in the future.  

Many of those who became ill were traced to the eastern half of the United States, but the footprint of those affected reach as far west as Alaska and Hawaii. 

Nicole Franzen

Should you be eating turkey right now?

The CDC says it is safe to eat turkey—as long as you know the proper way to safely handle and cook it in your own kitchen. The CDC advises that all turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees before being served, using a proper meat thermometer to confirm temperatures before serving your meal.

You should always wash your hands properly when handling raw meat in your kitchen, and take time to sanitize any prep space—but don't wash raw turkey or poultry in your sink before prepping, as this can help spread any bacteria across your kitchen's surfaces. Avoid feeding your pets raw meat, but especially turkey, as you can contaminate your kitchen with salmonella bacteria after handling the raw meat in the first place. 

Salmonella poisoning can lead to serious symptoms within 12 to 72 hours after first eating the contaminated food, which include chronic diarrhea, high fevers, vomiting, and widespread abdominal pain. Salmonella can often be confused with regular food poisoning.

As Consumer Reports notes, this is the ninth major salmonella outbreak reported by federal agencies this year—and signifies a larger problem where national food security proves to be a major challenge for the government officials tasked with it. A recent proposal aims to solve the issue by consolidating all food safety agencies under the USDA, which makes its way to Congress for approval later this year. 

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