Finally, some good news for the 78 or more victims of Cargill’s Salmonella Heidelberg-contaminated ground turkey. With its annual profits up 35% from last year, the meat and poultry producer is well able to compensate outbreak victims generously.

Last week, Cargill recalled nearly 36 million pounds of ground turkey products after CDC and USDA linked the illnesses to the company’s Springdale, Arkansas production facility. The recall covers ground turkey meat labelled with “Use By” dates of February 20, 2011 onward.

The 78 confirmed outbreak victims are scattered over 26 states, including AL (1), AZ (2), CA (6), GA (2), IA (1), IL (7), IN (1), KY (2), LA (1), MA (1), MI (10), MN (1), MO (2), MS (1), NC (1), NE (2), NV (1), NY (2), OH (10), OK (1), OR (1), PA (5), SD (3), TN (2), TX (9), and WI (3). Twenty-two people were hospitalized, and one of the 78 victims died.

There does not appear to be any rhyme or reason to the distribution of illnesses, as the recalled products were sold nationwide.

Bill Tomson, writing in the Wall Street Journal, reported yesterday that USDA knew about the presence of Salmonella Heidelberg in Cargill’s Springdale plant last year. The agency “brought the findings to the attention of the facility,” Tomson reports.

USDA claims to have both hands tied behind its back when it comes to taking enforcement action on Salmonella contamination in raw meat and poultry. The agency blames a federal appeal court ruing that followed USDA’s 1999 attempt to shut down a Texas ground-beef plant. As Tomson’s article reminds us, the appeal court ruled that Salmonella was naturally occurring and didn’t present a threat as long as the meat was cooked thoroughly.

While the federal appeals court ruling is a convenient excuse for inaction on the part of USDA, the agency easily could have sidestepped the legal hurdle by declaring Salmonella an adulterant – AS IT DID WITH E. COLI O157:H7 – and as it has the power to do with any pathogen.

Or would that ruffle too many industry feathers?

Bill MarlerFred Pritzker, and other personal injury attorneys take note. US consumers are now relying on you to enforce our food safety laws. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is impotent.