Health officials have confirmed at least 278 illnesses caused by salmonella linked to Foster Farms chicken facilities in California.
According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the products were distributed mainly to outlets in California, Oregon and Washington state, but precautions are being taken after an 18-state salmonella outbreak.
The salmonella outbreak appears to have begun in March and the USDA was notified in July, said Dan Engeljohn of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Investigators had a difficult time pinpointing the source of the illnesses, Englejohn said.
A spokesman for Foster Farms said no recall is in effect, but that the illness was due to people eating chicken that was undercooked or improperly handled. The three facilities that packaged the chicken were all in California’s Central Valley — one in Livingston and two in Fresno.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is partnering with state health departments to monitor the outbreak while FSIS continues to investigate, but due to the government shutdown, current information may not be available on the agencies’ websites.
“Salmonella is naturally occurring in poultry and can be fully eradicated if raw product is properly handled and fully cooked. All poultry producers strive to reduce bacterial presence, including Salmonella. We take food safety very seriously. When the incidence of illnesses linked to Salmonella increased, we wanted to know why and have worked quickly to identify and implement additional controls,” Robert O’ Connor, the company’s food safety chief and head veterinarian said. “It is also important to reassure the public that the FSIS process has not been affected by the recent government shutdown.”
“While the company, FSIS and CDC continue to investigate the issue, Foster Farms has instituted a number of additional food safety practices, processes and technology throughout company facilities that have already proven effective in controlling Salmonella in its Pacific Northwest operations earlier this year,” Foster Farms said in a statement on its website.
The USDA has not directly linked the outbreak to a specific product or production period, but suspect packages would read: P6137, P6137A and P7632.
State health officials were not planning a recall, but said it is essential that chicken be cooked to 165 degrees. “This is the important public health issue,” Anita Gore, spokeswoman for the California Department of Public Health tells AP. “Chicken can carry bacteria, and chicken needs to be fully cooked.”
“We are committed to ensuring the safety of our products, and our family-owned company has maintained an excellent food safety record during its near 80-year history,” said Foster Farms President Ron Foster. “We deeply regret any foodborne illness that may be associated with any of our products. Food safety is at the very heart of our business. It is a continuous process of improvement. In addition to collaborating with FSIS and CDC, the company has retained national experts in epidemiology and food safety technology to assess current practices and identify opportunities for further improvement.”
All poultry products should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165° F as determined by a food thermometer. Using a food thermometer is the only way to know that food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria.
Consumption of food contaminated with Salmonella can cause salmonellosis, one of the most common bacterial foodborne illnesses. Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, especially to those with weak immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy. The most common symptoms of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within eight to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.
Anyone with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET on weekdays. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day.
USDA Warning About Raw Chicken Linked to Salmonella Outbreak 2013
The USDA says Foster Farms chicken produced at three California facilities has been linked to nearly 300 cases of the salmonella in California, Oregon and Washington State.