Cargill Forms Panel to Review New Safety Measures

Several weeks after an outbreak of salmonella-related illnesses, Cargill has gathered a panel of three experts to review its enhanced food safety programs.

Following reports of a salmonella outbreak earlier this month, Cargill, Inc., voluntarily recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey from its Springdale, Arkansas plant. It reportedly addressed sanitary concerns and resumed operation of the plant about two weeks later.

Now, Minnetonka-based Cargill has formed a panel of experts in food safety, microbiology, and epidemiology, to review the enhanced safety measures adopted by the company following its turkey recall-and to recommend other steps that may be taken.

Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill's Wichita-based turkey processing business, said in a statement that the company's new safety measures have been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but “we believe a panel of independent experts will be able to help us assess and validate the measures we've put in place while also providing us with valued external perspective and recommendations for additional steps we could take. We have asked the panel to look at the entire process from live animal operations through ground turkey production.”

The panel includes Michael Doyle, professor of food microbiology at the University of Georgia; Barbara Masters, senior policy advisor at law firm Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz and former USDA food safety and inspection services administrator; and Craig Hedberg, University of Minnesota professor in the division of environmental health sciences.

To enhance its safety measures, Cargill said that it added two antibacterial washes to its existing food production system. The first involves disassembling and steam cleaning equipment before resuming ground turkey production. The second requires suppliers of turkey meat to perform an additional antibacterial wash.

“We will share best practices emerging from our food safety efforts with other turkey processing facilities,” Willardsen said in a statement. “Effectively dealing with randomly and naturally occurring bacteria is a collective challenge for the industry and its supply chain, as well as for regulators.”

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that salmonella was discovered at Cargill's Arkansas plant last year and at stores earlier this year through routine government inspections-long before the company's August 3 recall-but federal rules don't allow a recall to be issued until meat is directly tied to an illness or death. According to regulators, the recent outbreak was responsible for one death and sickened dozens throughout the country.

Cargill is Minnesota's largest private company based on revenue, which totaled an estimated $107.9 billion in the company's 2010 fiscal year.