salmonella2304_228x233.jpgJoNel Aleccia of MSNBC reported that the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a public health alert (last Friday night) about the Salmonella Heidelberg infections linked to ground turkey that has sickened 76 and killed 1 California man. However, FSIS is not saying much:

“FSIS has not linked these illnesses to a particular brand, product or establishment, and therefore has not issued a recall,” said an FSIS spokesman, who was not authorized to be named. “We are continuing to investigate the situation.”

Today, CDC officials said cultures of four ground turkey samples purchased from four retail locations between March 7 and June 27 detected the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg. Early information indicates that three of the samples came from a common production establishment. CDC officials would not identify that establishment, saying those cultures had not been linked to actual illnesses.

However, Willy Neuman of the New York Times wrote that meat processor Cargill said that it had been contacted by the Agriculture Department and asked to provide information as part of the salmonella investigation. “We are cooperating with the agency’s ongoing investigation into the source of the illnesses,” Mike Martin, a Cargill spokesman, said in an e-mail message.

I had a slightly different take:

“As this is an ongoing outbreak, this is likely a frozen product people have in their freezers,” said William D. Marler, a leading food safety litigation lawyer.

“What FSIS should be saying is, ‘Don’t eat frozen turkey products until we know what products are safe and what aren’t.’ They’re not telling the public anything that they can use to help protect themselves,” Marler said. (LA Times)

“This is sort of a perplexing announcement,” said Seattle attorney Bill Marler, who has represented victims in the nation’s largest foodborne illness outbreaks.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, but I can’t think of a situation where there have been ill people and (the government) issued a consumer alert, but did not come out with a name of a product,” such as fresh, frozen or a specific turkey product, Marler said.

Marler and about 2,500 food safety officials from around the world are in Milwaukee through Wednesday to discuss broader food safety issues, including the E. coli outbreak in Europe that killed at least 50 people and sickened thousands. (Milwaukee Journal)

Food safety advocate Bill Marler, an attorney who has represented victims of the nation’s biggest food-borne illness outbreaks, said he believes the three positive samples should prompt a recall.

“Consumers have no idea what to do except not eat ground turkey,” he said. (AP)

Food safety advocate and lawyer Bill Marler acknowledged that 77 infections scattered across 26 states “would not necessarily raise red flags.”

Still, the government “should have explained to the public why they’re not giving out more information” about the outbreak, said Marler, speaking by phone from a conference in Wisconsin on food safety.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I can’t recall a time that a public agency like this put out an advisory that didn’t tell the consumer anything.”

Marler, who is based in Seattle, represented victims’ families in the widely publicized 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli cases, as well as people sickened during the 2006 E. coli epidemic linked to bagged spinach.

The lack of information on the latest outbreak taints turkey producers across the nation, Marler said.

“If I was a ground turkey producer not linked to this, I’d be pretty upset. They should do a better job explaining that they’re doing this out of an abundance of caution for the public health.” (Sacramento Bee)

More on Wednesday – I suppose.