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Cargill's recall of 36 M pounds of turkey pales in comparison to the largest ever - 143 M pounds of beef in 2008.

On August 3rd, “Big Meat” producer Cargill voluntarily recalled 36 MILLION POUNDS of ground turkey packaged in a facility in Arkansas, due to possible contamination from salmonella Heidelberg. According to the official press release there is “no conclusive answer” as to where the salmonella came from, but they’ve stopped all work in the Arkansas facility until they can “take corrective actions.”

The Huffington Post reports that the salmonella outbreak has killed one and sickened at least 76.

“The CDC said the strain is resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics, which can make treatment more difficult. The agency said 38 percent of those sickened were hospitalized.

The states with the highest number sickened were Michigan and Ohio, 10 illnesses each, while nine illnesses were reported in Texas. Illinois had seven, California six and Pennsylvania five.

The remaining states have between one and three reported illnesses linked to the outbreak, according to the CDC: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.”

Large-scale food illness is one reason some consumers are backing away from buying meat from large companies like Cargill. Some worry that at such a large company, safety is more difficult to assure. Others like to know that their meat hasn’t been shipped all the way across the country before hitting their plates. Have the animals been treated humanely? Fed organically? Pumped with antibiotics? Buying from smaller local producers allows consumers more access to that information, and with access comes the power to make decisions based on their individual priorities and beliefs.

Brooklyn restaurant owner Sarah Peck (of Ortine in Prospect Heights) buys the turkey for her restaurant’s turkey meatloaf from Eberly Poultry in Lancaster, PA, which says it sells “Poultry as Nature Intended.” The turkeys are free-range and organically fed, without the use of growth hormones. We talked to Peck about her sourcing choices.

Why do you use Eberly’s turkey instead of turkey from a large producer?

For the same reason I buy all my meat from small farms–because the animals are living and butchered the way they’re supposed to be, which isn’t going to create a contamination problem. Also, because everything’s going to be really fresh, so nothing is going to be on this truck, and then that truck, and then that truck. It’s going to be alive, and then we’re going to get it, probably within a month at the longest.

Are you surprised to hear about something like this at a company as large as Cargill?

No I’m not, because any time you’re doing something so huge and so far removed from how it’s supposed to be done, there are going to be errors. There’s no way to grow that many turkeys safely. That’s a lot of animal waste, so if you’re going to have that many turkeys you need space to keep the turkeys and the waste apart, and I’m sure that’s not happening.

Do you find that your customers are happy to pay more for better quality turkey, or better quality meat in general?

Absolutely. I mean, people know that they’re getting that here, so I’m off the hook, but no one’s ever said one thing about our meat prices. And one thing about good turkey is it’s not actually expensive, because there’s so much extra turkey because of Thanksgiving. So they started raising all these turkeys, and sometimes it’s too much for the market, so that’s why it’s a great thing. Even our turkey comes out to, I think, $3 per pound. So why would you get it a gross place? Oh, I’m sorry, a “big” place?

DiPaola Turkey Farm in Hamilton, New Jersey, has been producing all-natural turkey on a small-scale since 1948. The farm, a family-owned operation, raises free-range, antibiotic-free birds, and sells fresh (unfrozen) turkey at Greenmarkets throughout the city. We asked Art DiPaola Jr. about the recall.

Are you surprised when you hear about a recall at a company as big as Cargill?

Answering with a yes or no is not the way I would choose to address this. However, in past history, the biggest recalls in this country have generally been from the largest food producers that we have.

What are you able to do in regards to quality control that a huge company like Cargill may not be able to do?

I have been born and raised in this family business and nothing here is manufactured without my personal vigilance and adherence to strict sanitary practices that have been in place for years.

What do you want consumers to know about the difference between a company like Cargill and a company like Di Paola?

We’re a hands-on busines that has existed since 1948. Our staff at DiPaola Turkey Farm is made up of family members, friends, and dedicated employees. These people come together to produce wholesome, quality products under very sanitary conditions, and last but not least, under my own personal supervision.

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