Oregon mother describes child’s ordeal after being sickened by contaminated ground turkey

As Cargill scrambles to recall 36 million pounds of fresh and frozen ground turkey, and officials defend the lengthy time between the initial illnesses and public notification, Melissa Lee is focused on her 1-year-old daughter, Ruby (right, from a family photo in The Oregonian).

Lynne Terry of The Oregonian reports Melissa Lee’s husband whipped up his recipe of spicy spaghetti and meat balls one night in June, making it like he always does: with ground turkey instead of beef. Preferring leaner nutritious meat for their family, the couple switched from ground beef to turkey years ago.

But ground turkey is precisely what put their baby Ruby in the hospital for seven days in June.

Ten months old and eating meat only for a few weeks, Ruby was sickened by salmonella-tainted ground turkey. She’s the only known case in Oregon and has recovered but an elderly woman in Sacramento County, California died in the outbreak and since March perhaps thousands have been sickened across the country.

Lee, 24, will not be buying ground turkey again any time soon. She’s angry her only child was poisoned by salmonella and hopes their story will help other families avoid the nightmare of food poisoning.

Practically since birth, Ruby has been an easy baby. She’s slept through the night, isn’t fussy and rarely cries. She bursts into giggles around other people and bobs to the beat of pop and rock tunes that stream from the radio in the family’s Troutdale home.

Ruby spent seven days at the hospital, with Lee camped out in the room. Her husband, Brandon Mullen-Bagby, 25, juggling visits and his night-shift job at Home Depot.

Like the other 78 confirmed cases in the outbreak spread over 26 states, Ruby was infected with Salmonella Heidleberg. The strain is one of four that are resistant to many leading antibiotics. That’s one reason such a high proportion of people sickened in the outbreak — nearly 40 percent — have been hospitalized.

No one had any answers until two weeks ago when William Keene, senior epidemiologist at Oregon Public Health, told Lee her daughter was probably sickened by contaminated ground turkey.

She was horrified.

"They should have put a warning on the label," she says. "When you go to the grocery store and buy meat, you expect it to be good for your family."