SPRINGDALE, Ark. – After the US Department of Agriculture approved an enhanced food-safety plan, ground turkey production has resumed at Cargill’s meat processing facility in Springdale, Ark. Cargill suspended ground turkey production at the plant after voluntary recalls in August and September of more than 36 million lbs. of ground turkey due to possible contamination from Salmonella Heidelberg.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said early in November a total of 136 persons were infected with a multi-state outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg reported from 34 states in recent months – and that this particular outbreak appeared to be over. A Cargill spokesman previously pointed out to MEATPOULTRY.com that a significant portion of these illnesses had not been linked to ground turkey.

As a result of the Springdale plant’s food-safety plan being approved, approximately 50 employees who were part of an early October, 130-person layoff have since returned to work at the plant. More than 70 people had already returned to work as job openings in other parts of the facility were made available.

Cargill said its food-safety scientists have been exploring all possible solutions to reduce the risk from Salmonella in ground turkey during the last three months. “No stone has been left unturned as we searched for answers to help us improve food safety,” said Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill Value Added Meats Retail.

As part of a multi-phase ramp-up of production at Springdale, one of four ground turkey production lines has been reactivated; the remaining lines will be reactivated in the near future.

Cargill has initiated the following food-safety actions:

  • Underwent a complete reassessment and overhaul of the facility’s food-safety plan.
  • Implemented several new food-safety measures, including more and better bacterial reduction steps throughout the process.
  • Created a three-phase ground turkey sampling and monitoring program, which the company said is the most rigorous in the industry.
  • Is now using high-pressure processing (HPP) to reduce Salmonella.
  • Developed an enhanced process-control monitoring system to ensure all parts of the company’s Salmonella control program are continuously generating the best possible results.

The company said it feels a phased approach to resuming ground turkey production will ensure Cargill’s enhancements to its food-safety program are working as designed. University, government and private researchers are working with Cargill to help speed-up developing new technologies showing significant promise for commercial application.