Cargill Turkey Salmonella Tops List of 2011 Antibiotic-Resistant Outbreaks

167 Americans became sick, 47 were hospitalized and one died in three major outbreaks of antibiotic-resistant foodborne illness last year, all from Salmonella in meat products, the Center for Science in the Public Interest reported.

The largest of the three outbreaks was Salmonella Heidelberg in Cargill ground turkey products, traced to the company's plant in Springdale, Arkansas. A total of 136 people in 34 states were sickened between February and September. One death was reported and 39 percent of case patients were hospitalized.

In the next largest outbreak, Salmonella Typhimurium in ground beef sold by Hannaford Supermarkets in the Northeast sickened 20 people in seven states, sending seven to the hospital.

The third outbreak of antibiotic-resistant food poisoning was linked to Jennie-O ground turkey burgers. Salmonella Hadar infections sickened 12 people in 10 states in that outbreak. including three who were hospitalized.

All of those bacteria were resistant to treatment from several antibiotics, including drugs in the penicillin, cephalosporin, and tetracycline families.

The CSPI report on 2011 outbreaks is part of a larger database established through literature searches of 38 foodborne outbreaks between 1973 and 2011 in which the bacteria identified were resistant to at least one antibiotic  Of the 38 outbreaks, 45 percent occurred between 2000 and 2011.

Outbreaks were most common in dairy products (12 outbreaks or 32 percent) and ground beef (10 
outbreaks or 26 percent). Four outbreaks were linked to poultry, with ground turkey appearing as a new vehicle in the  two outbreaks in 2011.

The non-profit CSPI is one of several public interest groups pressing Congress to adopt a strategy to combat the rampant use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. The pervasiveness of antibiotics used to raise beef, poultry and pork is making foodborne illnesses longer, more serious and harder to treat, the group has said. 

According to FDA, the drug industry has produced more than 29 million pounds of antimicrobial drugs approved for use in food animals. CSPI says that food animals consume 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States and that 65 percent of those antibiotics are similar or identical to those used in human medicine.

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