Statement of CSPI deputy director of regulatory affairs Sarah Sorscher

Getting sick from foodborne bacteria is bad enough, but it becomes a terrifying prospect if your illness does not respond to treatment with antibiotics. That’s the concern with the current outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Reading linked to a surprisingly wide variety of turkey products. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the outbreak has sickened 164—hospitalizing more than a third of those—and has killed one. The first cases were reported nearly a year ago in November 2017, and the outbreak investigation remains ongoing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture knows more about the turkey products implicated in this outbreak than it is disclosing to the media or the American people. The agency has detected the outbreak strain in samples from raw turkey products from 22 slaughter and 7 processing establishments but has not published their names. 

We urge USDA to name these establishments. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that the turkeys headed for our Thanksgiving tables do not harbor antibiotic-resistant bacteria that have caused human illness and death. And if it can’t do that, it should at least help consumers avoid tainted turkey.

Consumers should assume that all turkey poses a risk and follow safe food handling tips:

Other tips from CSPI’s food safety team for a safe holiday:

  1. Bag turkeys or chicken in a separate plastic bag before putting it in your cart where it can contaminate other groceries (grocers should supply plastic bags in the meat department, and consumers should ask them to put bags out if they are not doing so);
  2. Thaw your turkey (or chicken) in the refrigerator on a separate plate to catch any fluids; and
  3. Do not wash a turkey or chicken carcass in the sink as it can spread contamination.

Note that there is a separate ongoing outbreak of ABR Salmonella in chicken:

Also, some pet owners have been sickened by handling raw chicken or turkey pet food. Pet owners should handle these items with care, and consider switching foods.