Half the ground turkey that federal inspectors tested last year at the largest Jennie-O Turkey Store plant in Willmar contained salmonella bacteria, one of the highest rates in the nation and close to failing the federal standard, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Salmonella levels at two other Jennie-O ground turkey plants in Minnesota and Wisconsin also were higher than the average for the industry, according to test results from 22 U.S. plants obtained by the Star Tribune under the Freedom of Information Act.

Jennie-O defended its processing practices, saying that they meet all government standards for salmonella and that food safety is a company priority. Julie Henderson Craven, a spokeswoman for Jennie-O’s parent company, Hormel Foods, said in a brief e-mail to the Star Tribune: "The root cause of salmonella is the live bird, not the processing facility."

No outbreaks of human illness from salmonella have been traced to the Jennie-O processing plants. However, to some food safety advocates, such levels of the common but potentially deadly bacteria raise questions about government oversight of ground-turkey processing, especially since many Americans eat ground turkey as a low-fat alternative to ground beef.