Ground turkey recall: Why did it take so long?

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Seventy seven illnesses in the outbreak _ an increase of one from the 76 illnesses reported earlier in the week _ have been reported in 26 states coast to coast. A chart on the CDC’s website shows cases have occurred every month since early March, with spikes in May and early June. The latest reported cases were in July, although the CDC said some recent cases may not have been reported yet.

The CDC said the strain is resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics, which can make treatment more difficult. Braden said that at least 22 people were hospitalized, which is more than would be expected. One possible reason for that is the antibiotic resistance, Braden said, though the strain is responsive to some antibiotics.

USDA’s Goldman said the department is continuing to investigate and analyze samples from the plant itself. Outside the plant Thursday, a tractor-trailer carrying hundreds of turkeys pulled into a shed. Fans and machines spraying mist kept the turkeys cool as government inspectors worked inside. An Associated Press photographer was not allowed inside the plant.

In announcing the recall, Cargill officials said all ground turkey production has been suspended at the Springdale plant until the company is able to determine the source of the contamination.

“Given our concern for what has happened, and our desire to do what is right for our consumers and customers, we are voluntarily removing our ground turkey products from the marketplace,” said Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill’s turkey processing business.

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 to 72 hours of eating a contaminated product. It can be life-threatening to some with weakened immune systems.

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Associated Press photographer Danny Johnston in Springdale, Ark., contributed to this report.

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Online:

Cargill’s list of recalled items: http://www.cargill.com/news-center/news-releases/2011/NA3047807.jsp

USDA recall announcement: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/Recall_060_2011_Release/index.asp

CDC info on salmonella in ground turkey: http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/heidelberg/index.html

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