Nearly 300 people in 18 states may have been sickened by raw chicken products processed by Foster Farms in California, according to a health alert issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday.
According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, most of the 278 confirmed salmonella Heidelberg illnesses were confined to California, and the products were also shipped to outlets in Oregon and Washington as well.
An estimated 142,000 Americans are infected each year with salmonella from chicken products, and about 30 don't survive, though studies have shown it's mostly immunocompromised patients, children and the elderly, who succumb to the illness. The most common symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever, with an 8 hour to three day onset after eating a contaminated product. Chills, headache, nausea and vomiting can last up to a week.
Foster Farms has been having a hard time with their raw chicken. Earlier this year, there was another salmonella Heidelberg outbreak, to where 134 people in 13 states became ill. Still, Barbara Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thinks that the latest contamination is an entirely new incident. Not many details beyond this could be given, due to the government shutdown.
What is known is that the latest illnesses were linked to Foster Farms by a combination of epidemiologic, laboratory and trace-back methods, but specific products could not be isolated as contaminated. Also, the outbreak is ongoing, though no food recalls have been issued.
One thing that Foster Farms and FSIS don't want consumers to do is to fail to thoroughly cook their chicken. Raw poultry needs to hit 165 degrees to fully cook, if the memory of my 1999 food handler's permit test for McDonald's back-wall assistant team leadership role serves me right.
Foster Farms has said that it's hired experts to “assess current practices and identify opportunities for further improvement", and is working with FSIS and CDC to eradicate salmonella Heidelberg at its sites. Robert O’ Connor, Foster Farms' food safety chief and head veterinarian said, “When the incidence of illnesses linked to Salmonella increased, we wanted to know why and have worked quickly to identify and implement additional controls. It is also important to reassure the public that the FSIS process has not been affected by the recent government shutdown.”
Image via Wikimedia Commons.