Federal officials said they turned up a dangerous form of salmonella at a Cargill Inc. turkey plant last year, and then four times this year at stores selling the Cargill turkey, but didn’t move for a recall until an outbreak killed one person and sickened 77 others.

Cargill and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the recall of ground turkey from the Cargill plant in Springdale, Ark., on Aug. 3. The USDA said the third-largest meat recall in history affected 36 million pounds of ground turkey.

Food-safety specialists said the delay reflected a gap in federal rules that don’t treat salmonella as a poisonous contaminant, even if inspectors find antibiotic-resistant forms such as the Heidelberg strain implicated in the latest outbreak.

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