Cargill is still investigating the source of salmonella contamination at its production facility in Pennsylvania, after an outbreak of the foodborne illness was traced back to beef produced at the site.

The US meat giant was forced to recall 29,300 pounds of ground beef this Sunday (22 July) after it was linked to five cases of salmonella enteritidis by the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service.

FSIS had launched an investigation in response to an outbreak of the disease involving 33 illnesses in seven states. Five of these cases have been directly linked to ground beef produced by Cargill and repacked under retailers own-brand labels.

A spokesperson for Cargill told just-food the firm is still investigating how the bacteria entered its production facility and is also “cooperating” with the USDA’s investigation.

The spokesperson said: “Bacteria such as salmonella and e.coli travel with the meat. Therefore, they come into a meat processing facility with the animals that are harvested, travel with the meat and depart with the meat. 

“This is not a systemic facility-type issue that might be the case with something such as listeria. Cattle harvested at our Pennsylvania facility come from a variety of regional sources, so we are trying to determine which cattle were harvested that produced the meat that was recalled.”

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Last year, Cargill suspended ground turkey production at a US turkey plant in August and September after an investigation linked the site to an outbreak of salmonella heidelberg, affecting dozens of people across 31 states. Of those, one person was reported dead.

The latest food safety scare is likely to come as unwelcome news for US ground beef manufacturers, who saw sales plummet earlier this year as consumers responded to the negative publicity surrounding so-called “pink slime”.

However, Cargill remained upbeat on the outlook for ground beef sales this summer.

The spokesperson commented: “In the US, it is grilling season. Year-round, Americans like ground beef for many uses. It is a staple in the American diet. Fresh ground beef products are safe when they are handled and prepared properly, cooking to an internal temperature to 160°F and using a thermometer to confirm.”