TheWall Street Journalis reporting that the USDA knew about the presence of Salmonella in Cargill Meat Solutions’ Springdale, Ark., plant months before last week’s large recall of ground turkey products. However, the agency was unable to take any action because court rulings prevent it from treatingSalmonellaas a poisonous contaminant unless it's directly tied to an illness or death.

According to the report, federal inspectors found three samples of turkey contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg at the plant last year. In April, the federal government's National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System also found Salmonella Heidelberg in a retail package of ground turkey that came from the Arkansas plant.

Reports of illness started surfacing in March, but the source of the outbreak was not immediately clear. Cargill recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey on August 3 and shut down production at the Springdale plant.

Sources: Wall Street Journal, The Business Journal