Mammoth meat packer Cargill recalled a whopping 36 million pounds of ground turkey last week, but federal officials knew of salmonella contamination at a Cargill plant dating back to last year, reports the Wall Street Journal. It seems that a USDA inspection turned up three instances of salmonella Heidelberg at Cargill's Arkansas plant in 2010, which were "brought to the attention of the facility"; federal regulations, however, allow up to 49.9% of tests to be positive as salmonella isn't considered a dangerous adulterant unless it causes death. Problem: The Heidelberg strain involved in the recall is antibiotic-resistant and can be fatal.
More federal bumbling: After the first illnesses were reported in March, store inspections beginning in April found salmonella in Cargill meat. The CDC, aware of the store tests, was investigating illnesses, but took no action and didn't contact Cargill. It wasn't until July 29 that the USDA contacted Cargill; five days later ground turkey operations were halted. Feds acknowledge inter-agency ball-dropping, but say their hands were tied by the way salmonella is classified. "It means that these are pathogens that are more dangerous and need to be addressed in a similar way that the USDA addresses E. coli," says an industry expert. (Read more salmonella stories.)