MILWAUKEE (CBS13/AP) — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the government hopes to find the source of a salmonella outbreak linked to ground turkey “very, very” soon.

Vilsack told The Associated Press on Wednesday that investigators are working with producers to identify a source and then will encourage the industry to issue a recall. The outbreak has been linked to one death and at least 76 illnesses.

California state health officials said Tuesday that the one death was in Sacramento County.

The illnesses date back to March. Vilsack says the investigation is complicated in part because ground turkey can be in many products.

He emphasizes the key to safe ground turkey is cooking the food properly and reading the labels. If consumers have doubts, Vilsack says they should throw the product away.

Vilsack discussed the outbreak after speaking to an International Association of Food Protection meeting in Milwaukee.

Foster Farms, a major producer of processed turkey, issued the following statement Wednesday defending its own efforts to minimize the presence of bacteria in their products:

Salmonella is a naturally occurring bacteria in the environment. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has recently been investigating multi-state illnesses, principally in the Midwest and the East, that are believed to be related to a specific strain of Salmonella bacteria, Salmonella Heidelberg. Foster Farms’ processing and testing procedures are part of a continuous effort to minimize the presence of Salmonella in any of its poultry products. Foster Farms’ testing has found zero presence of Salmonella Heidelberg in Foster Farms ground turkey products in 2011, 2010 and 2009. Foster Farms has not been contacted by the FSIS regarding this alert and is not involved in the current investigation. Foster Farms ground turkey products are safe to consume with proper handling, when cooked to the recommended temperature.

Food safety is Foster Farms’ highest priority and the company reminds consumers to always follow safe handling, preparation and storage guidelines for the preparation of fresh poultry products. All fresh chicken and turkey products should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F (boneless and ground) and 180°F and 170°F (bone-in: breast and drums; thighs and wings) or as guided on package labels. Visit to learn more.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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