Meat giant Cargill is recalling 36 million pounds of ground turkey linked to a nationwide salmonella outbreak that has killed one person in California and sickened at least 76 others.
Illnesses in the outbreak date back to March and have been reported in 26 states, including New York.
Cargill said Wednesday that it is recalling fresh and frozen ground turkey products produced at the company's Springdale, Ark., plant from Feb. 20 through Tuesday because of possible contamination from the strain of salmonella linked to the illnesses.
Company officials said that the plant has suspended all ground turkey production until the company is able to determine the source of the outbreak.
"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 Minnesota-based company said it was launching the recall after its own internal investigation, an Agriculture Department investigation and information about the illnesses released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All of the packages recalled include the code "Est. P-963" on the label, according to Cargill. The packages were labeled with many different brands, including Cargill's Honeysuckle White.
The CDC said this week that cultures of ground turkey taken from four retail locations between March 7 and June 27 showed contamination with the same strain of salmonella, though those samples had not been specifically linked to the illnesses. The CDC said preliminary information showed that three of those samples were linked to the same production establishment, but it did not name that plant.
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 mid-July, although the CDC said some recent cases might not have been reported yet.
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 have made virtually no progress against it.
Government officials say that even contaminated ground turkey is safe to eat if it is cooked to 165 degrees. But they also emphasize the importance of handling raw meat properly and of washing hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling the meat. Turkey and other meats also should be properly refrigerated or frozen, and leftovers heated.