(CNN) -- Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation announced Wednesday an immediate voluntary recall of approximately 36 million pounds of ground turkey meat because it may be contaminated with salmonella bacteria.
Cargill's plant in Springdale, Arkansas, processed the suspect fresh and frozen ground turkey products between February 20 and August 2, the company said in a news release.
Federal health authorities said Tuesday that an outbreak of multi-drug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg that has killed one person and sickened 76 others in 26 states appears to have been traced to ground turkey products.
The company said it has suspended production of ground turkey products at the processing facility until it can determine the source of the bacteria strain.
Other turkey products from Springdale are not affected by the recall. Nor are products from Cargill's three other turkey processing facilities in the United States.
"It is regrettable that people may have become ill from eating one of our ground turkey products and, for anyone who did, we are truly sorry," said Steve Willardsen, president of Cargill's turkey processing business. "We go to great lengths to ensure the food we produce is safe and we fully understand that people expect to be able to consume safe food, each serving, every time."
Consumers may return any opened or unopened packages of ground turkey items listed on Cargill's website (www.cargill.com/turkey-recall/) to stores where they were purchased for a refund.
About 5 billion pounds of ready-to-cook turkey meat are sold in the United States each year, said Joel Brandenberger, president of the Washington-based National Turkey Federation. That's nearly double what it was 40 years ago, he said.
The current illnesses are spread all over the country. 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.
Ground turkey is considered safe to eat when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees during cooking. For turkey patties or burgers, internal temperatures on each side should be measured. The government also advises refrigerating meat promptly and washing hands for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat or poultry.
The CDC estimates that 50 million Americans each year get sick from food poisoning, including about 3,000 who die. Salmonella causes most of these cases and federal health officials say they've made virtually no progress against it.
The most common symptoms of salmonella are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight hours to 72 hours of eating a contaminated product. It can be life-threatening to some with weakened immune systems.