Cargill's Arkansas ground turkey plant is restarted

  • Article by: DAVID SHAFFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 19, 2011 - 8:05 PM

A salmonella outbreak linked to a plant in Springdale, Ark., led to the plant's shutdown in September.

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A truckload of live turkeys arrived at the Cargill processing plant in Springdale, Ark.

Photo: Danny Johnston, Associated Press

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Cargill Inc. said on Monday that it has resumed ground turkey production at a Springdale, Ark., plant after upgrading safety and testing procedures in response to a salmonella outbreak that triggered a massive recall.

The Minnetonka-based company, which suspended production in September, said most of the 130 workers who had been laid off have been brought back to work.

One of four ground turkey production lines at the plant has been restarted, and the others will resume production soon, the company said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved the plant's new safety plan, Cargill said.

The company said the plant has added anti-bacterial washes, increased sampling to detect salmonella and has begun subjecting some finished packages to high pressure, a method used to kill microbes.

Mike Martin, a spokesman for Cargill, said the high-pressure treatment is used with ground turkey in tubular packaging. The technology, which Cargill also has used with ground beef, does not work with flat packages, he said.

He said Cargill does not release results from testing for salmonella, but "the results we have seen over the last few days have been very encouraging."

The company also said it is working with researchers on other promising technologies.

Cargill, owner of the Honeysuckle White turkey brand, is one of the nation's biggest ground turkey makers. Martin said in October that the recall was having a "significant" impact on the company's turkey business.

About half of Cargill's domestic ground turkey capacity was out of commission due to recall issues, and the company's other U.S. ground turkey plant, in Virginia, couldn't completely make up for lost production in Arkansas.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that 136 people in 34 states got sick from the salmonella strain linked to the plant, and one of them died. Two people became ill in Minnesota.

The outbreak began in late February, peaked in the summer and the last cases were reported in October, the CDC said. The strain was resistant to antibiotics, resulting in at least 37 victims being hospitalized, the CDC said.

Cargill first recalled ground turkey from the Arkansas plant on Aug. 3, instituted a raft of new safety procedures and gradually restarted production on Aug. 10. But the salmonella strain turned up again in a USDA test, and the company shut down production again in early September.

David Shaffer • 612-673-7090

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