CDC Details Industry-Wide Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Turkey


In this novel type of outbreak, contamination was not isolated to a single food or facility, suggesting industry-wide contamination.

Just ahead of Thanksgiving the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released new details into a 2017-19 multistate outbreak of Salmonella Reading linked to turkey.

The details, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, suggest the foodborne outbreak is linked to industry-wide contamination as transmission could not be traced back to a single food or facility.

The situation was initially identified in January 2018 when the Minnesota Department of Health identified a cluster of Salmonella Reading infections through routine surveillance. The pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) was submitted to the CDC’s PulseNet system to search for additional infections in the cluster.

In response to the cluster, the CDC launched an investigation. Cases of Salmonella Reading that shared the outbreak PFGE pattern and had an illness onset from November 20, 2017 through March 31, 2019, are considered outbreak-associated cases.

In total, 356 outbreak cases were identified from 42 states and Washington DC. Information was available for 300 individuals, of whom 132 (44%) were hospitalized. Additionally, 1 death was reported.

The ill individuals ranged in age from <1 year to 101 years, with a median age of 42 years. Information indicates that 52% of the ill were male.

As part of the investigation, health officials interviewed ill individuals about consumptions and exposures in the week prior to falling ill. Among the 198 patients who were interviewed, 132 (67%) reported direct or indirect contact with turkey in the week prior to becoming sick.

Contact included preparing or eating turkey products purchased raw, serving raw ground turkey pet food to their pets, or working or living with someone who worked in a turkey processing facility.

The investigation did not identify a single type, brand or source of the Salmonella contamination. Based on this, evidence suggests that the outbreak strain was present throughout the turkey industry in live turkeys and raw turkey products.

During the investigation, routine testing identified the outbreak strain in 178 samples of raw turkey products from 24 slaughter and 14 processing establishments and 120 retail turkey samples. The strain was also identified in 10 samples from live turkeys in several states.

Due to the inconclusive investigation, the CDC informed the National Turkey Federation. After learning of the outbreak, the organization put together Salmonella control plans to share with the industry, launched studies about Salmonella in processing plants, and began bolstering consumer food safety education.

“Although elimination of Salmonella from poultry flocks and products is challenging, the responsibility to develop effective strategies for Salmonella reduction along the production chain begins with industry,” the authors of the report write.

The CDC’s investigation concluded in April 2019 because new cases of illness decreased; however, outbreak strain cases continue to be identified. Based on this, health officials hypothesize that the outbreak strain has become widespread within the turkey production industry.

What does this mean for consumers? Should you throw out your Thanksgiving turkey?

The authors of the report say that this report should only make consumers learn and practice proper food safety throughout the food preparation process.

Here’s a refresher on safe turkey preparation tips:

  • Turkey should always be thawed in a container in the refrigerator or in a leak-proof plastic bag in a sink of cold water.
  • Raw turkey should be kept away from other foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Surfaces should be properly sanitized following contact with raw turkey to reduce the spread of bacteria.
  • Turkey should be cooked to 165°F (74°C), as measured by a food thermometer inserted into the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint.
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