(CNN) -- Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey last week. But there's word the company knew the meat had some salmonella much earlier. So what stopped it from alerting the public sooner?
The ground turkey made by Cargill was recalled last week, but the company knew it had salmonella last year. That's what the USDA says, saying federal laws stopped it from alerting the public sooner.
The turkey, processed at an Arkansas meat plant, had salmonella heidelberg, a strain that can be dangerous, even deadly. But federal laws say tainted meat isn't considered a public health threat until it's directly linked to illness. In this case, it meant five months of tests before Cargill announced the problem. In the meantime, the turkey killed one person and sickened 77 others before last week's recall -- 36 million pounds of ground turkey pulled off the shelves in one of the largest meat recalls in history.
Cargill spokesman Mike Martin says the company simply followed federal law and that tests showed the salmonella was well below levels allowed by the USDA, so Cargill had no reason to think the turkey was dangerous. Martin says controlling illness is "a collective challenge" and that the recall has "strengthened resolve" to make their food safer.
But experts say this is one of many recalls that point to a bigger problem. Federal laws, they say, must be stricter so companies are forced to make safer food, and stop selling it immediately if it might be contaminated.
So, what can you do as a consumer? Safety advocates say the first step is telling your lawmakers you want stricter food laws.