By Hilary Thesmar, PhD, RD, CFS, Chief Food and Product Safety Officer and Senior Vice President Food Safety, Food Marketing Institute
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Forty-six million turkeys are consumed each Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation, but the centerpiece for the family meal currently under scrutiny due to an ongoing investigation and multi-state outbreak of a multi-drug resistant Salmonella Reading infections linked to raw turkey products. Your customers are likely concerned about the potential for an unwelcome guest at the Thanksgiving table based on recent headlines and local television reports.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here’s the situation:

  • Seventy-four more ill people from 26 states were added to this investigation since the last update on July 19, 2018.
  • As of November 5, 2018, 164 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Reading have been reported from 35 states.
  • Sixty-three people have been hospitalized, and one death has been reported from California.

Reports are calling on USDA to name the brands linked to the outbreak, but since the outbreak is ongoing, sources have not been identified other than one recall of raw ground turkey products from Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales in Barron, WI on November 15, 2018. A single supplier of raw products or live turkeys has not been identified at this point. The initial outbreak began in 2017 and it spans whole birds, parts, ground meat and pet food. Most major broadcast and online reports have a responsibly reported consumer safe-handling instructions, which can also be found on the CDC website.

Food safety remains a top priority for FMI members; food retailers have high standards when it comes to purchasing meat and poultry to sell to their customers and they take their obligations under federal and state regulations very seriously. The retail industry supports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) actions to address unnecessary food animal production use of antimicrobials that are important for medical use in humans. In addition, FMI supports increased veterinary oversight for the therapeutic uses of such drugs to preserve animal health. 

As background, FDA, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jointly administer the National Residue Program. In the case of veterinary drugs, FDA sets residue standards and USDA monitors for antimicrobial residues in meat and poultry products. FMI fully supports these standards and FMI member companies adhere to the levels set in the products being sold in their stores. Currently, standard testing is already required by the National Residue Monitoring Program.

You can also assure your customers that FDA is working on policies to help reduce antibiotic resistance of antibiotics important in human medicine. The use of antibiotics for animal and aquaculture production is being carefully considered in concert with a through policy review, and all approved antibiotics have been through a thorough scientific review by the FDA. 

Safe food handling at home is perhaps the most important message to emphasize with consumers during the holidays. Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill are the core food safety practices, and the Partnership for Food Safety Education has many holiday food safety meal tips and sharable content for your store literature and social media channels.

Food safety is a shared responsibility all along the supply chain to the household kitchen, supporting shoppers’ confidence during the holiday season of entertaining and family mealtime celebrations. Thank you for all you do to bring more people together around food and create delicious, happy, festive – and safe – seasonal memories.