As of November 5, 2018, 164 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Reading have been reported from 35 states.

Tonight Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales, LLC, a Barron, Wis. establishment, is recalling approximately 91,388 pounds of raw ground turkey products that may be associated with an illness outbreak of Salmonella Reading, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced.

The Washington Post’s reporters, Kimberly Kindy and Brady Dennis jumped into FSIS’s “what’s an adulterant” thicket with their story posted yesterday “Salmonella outbreaks expose weakness in USDA oversight.”  The article is worth the read.

Regarding FSIS allowing the meat industry – chicken, beef, etc., to ship us all food tainted with Salmonella, what happened to my client and reported by the post says it all:

The Agriculture Department inspector showed up at Rick Schiller’s home in November to collect potential evidence from his freezer: three pounds of chicken thighs, wrapped in plastic and stamped with a Foster Farms label.

Schiller, a 51-year-old California advertising executive, had recently returned from a five-day stay in the hospital prompted by severe vomiting, diarrhea and an infection that left his joints throbbing and his right leg purple and twice its normal size.

“I’ve been around the block. I’ve had some painful things,” he said. “But nothing like this.”

He takes drops for his right eye, which is constantly congested, red and itchy. On cold nights, he carries firewood in his left arm because his right still feels weak.

“I don’t know what the long-term prognosis is going to be,” he said. “I’m just thankful that I’m alive.”

Mr. Schiller was part of one of two 2013 Foster Farm chicken Salmonella outbreaks that sickened over 500, putting 40% of those in the hospital.  And, guess what?  No recalls because Salmonella is not considered an adulterant despite what it does to Foster Farm’s customers. But, what if FSIS and the industry considered Salmonella an adulterate – like common sense tells most of us?  As the post reports, there is a history of success with calling pathogens what they are:

The agency declared a zero-tolerance policy for the strain in many beef products after hundreds of Americans fell ill and four children died in 1993 after eating tainted hamburger meat from fast-food chain Jack in the Box.

As researchers eventually identified other types of E. coli that were particularly virulent and resistant to antibiotics, those likewise got labeled “adulterants” by the USDA, meaning the agency considers them dangerous substances that should be banned from commerce. A ban gives the USDA legal authority to order recalls, something it does not have with Salmonella.

The result: Over time, deaths and infections from E. coli have decreased significantly.

“It worked,” said Seattle lawyer Bill Marler, who specializes in food poisoning cases and is representing Schiller. “Ninety-five percent of my cases used to be E. coli. Today it is nearly zero. The industry will kick and scream, but they can fix it.”

Go figure.

I have received a few emails and calls about what to do for Thanksgiving when there appears to be an ongoing outbreak and recall.  FSIS has some of the best advice – see below:

The Thanksgiving meal is the largest many cooks prepare each year. Getting it just right, especially the turkey, brings a fair amount of pressure whether or not a host is experienced with roasting one. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing food safety recommendations on how to properly prepare a turkey to make sure yours is both delicious and safe to serve.

“Unsafe handling and undercooking of your turkey can lead to serious foodborne illness, explains Maria Malagon, Director of Food Safety Education with USDA FSIS. “Turkeys may contain Salmonella and Campylobacter, harmful pathogens that are only destroyed by properly preparing and cooking a turkey.”

Consumers should follow certain steps to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. According to Ms. Malagon, “those handling and cooking Thanksgiving meals should be aware of the resources available to them and the measures they can take to keep food safe.”

Steps to follow before cooking a turkey:

  • Read labels carefully. Temperature labels show if the bird is fresh or frozen. If you plan to serve a fresh turkey, purchase it no more than two days before Thanksgiving.
  • Purchase two thermometers: a refrigerator thermometer to ensure the turkey is stored at 40 °F or slightly below and a food thermometer to make sure the cooked turkey reaches a safe 165 °F.
  • Thaw the turkey by using the microwave, the cold water method, or the refrigerator. The refrigerator method is USDA recommended.

Steps to follow when cooking a turkey:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before touching any food to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness.
  • Do not wash the turkey. This only spreads pathogens onto kitchen surfaces. The only way to kill bacteria that causes foodborne illness is to fully cook the turkey.
  • Keep raw turkey separated from all other foods at all times.
  • Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils when handling raw turkey to avoid cross-contamination. Wash items that have touched raw meat with warm soap and water, or place them in a dishwasher.
  • Cook the turkey until it reaches 165 °F, as measured by a food thermometer. Check the turkey’s temperature by inserting the thermometer in three places: the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing.

Steps to follow when consuming leftover Thanksgiving food:

  • Refrigerate leftovers within two hours to prevent bacteria from growing on the food.
  • Store leftovers in shallow pans or containers to decrease cooling time. This prevents the food from spending too much time at unsafe temperatures (between 40 °F to 140 °F).
  • Do not store stuffing inside a leftover turkey. Remove the stuffing from the turkey, and refrigerate the stuffing and the meat separately.
  • Avoid consuming leftovers that have been left in the refrigerator for longer than 3 or 4 days (next Tuesday to be exact). Use the freezer to store leftovers for longer periods of time.
  • Keep leftovers in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs if the food is traveling home with a guest who lives more than two hours away.