CSPI and other health groups urge USDA also to check chickens and turkeys for campylobacter

WASHINGTON - Turkeys produced at a ConAgra turkey packing house in Colorado are the most contaminated in the country, according to government test results obtained by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) under the Freedom of Information Act. Nearly half of the turkeys processed at ConAgra’s Longmont, Colorado, facility are contaminated with harmful Salmonella bacteria, as are almost one-third of the turkeys produced at four other plants.

     “The government should set and enforce standards to reduce the amount of contaminated poultry reaching consumers,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “Although proper cooking will kill bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter, raw poultry can still contaminate other foods in the kitchen. Consumers shouldn’t have to roll the dice — especially with odds as bad as these”

     The“filthy five” turkey plants, along with their contamination rates, brand names, and plant numbers, are:

 Brand names (plant numbers)
ConAgra Poultry
Longmont, CO
49.1%Longmont (P-00552)
Plantation Foods/Cargill
Waco, TX
34.5%Plantation (P-00635)
Bil Mar Foods of Iowa
Storm Lake, IA
32.1%Sara Lee Carvers (P-00757)
Briar Street Market (P-00757)
Diestel Turkey Ranch
Chinese Camp, CA
30.4%Diestel (P-09332)
Diestel’s Petite (P-09332)
Heidi’s Hens (P-09332)
Farbest Foods
Huntingburg, IN
28.1%Farbest (P-07769)

     The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conductedSalmonella tests in 38 turkey processing plants. Although the industry’s overall contamination rate is 13 percent, nearly one-quarter of the facilities tested — including another Cargill plant — achieved contamination rates of 2 percent or less. At a Perdue plant in Indiana, not a single turkey out of 56 tested was contaminated with Salmonella.

     “Many companies can produce turkeys with little or noSalmonella,” DeWaal said. “But other turkey producers are endangering consumers. USDA deserves some of the blame for failing to set Salmonella standards for turkey plants”

     Under current regulations, chicken processors can be shut down for consistently failing to meet USDA Salmonella standards. “Because USDA has not set similar standards for turkey processors, even plants that ship a high percentage of contaminated turkeys don’t have to worry about government enforcement action,” DeWaal said.

     Also today, CSPI, joined by Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America, petitioned the USDA to require chicken and turkey processors to reduce Campylobactercontamination rates. Campylobacter, the most common cause of foodborne bacterial infection in the United States, contaminates between 60 percent and 80 percent of raw chickens. Turkeys are also infected at high rates.

     Campylobacter kills an estimated 100 Americans and sickens almost two million others each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while Salmonella causes an estimated 1.3 million illnesses, 15,000 hospitalizations, and 500 deaths annually. Those illnesses are characterized by diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramping, nausea, or headache. Salmonella andCampylobacter are also linked to other serious chronic illnesses, like reactive arthritis and Guillian Barre syndrome, respectively.