Salmonella Outbreak Linked To California Chicken Processor
October 8, 2013

Salmonella Outbreak Linked To California Chicken Processor

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

A California poultry producer is at the center of a salmonella outbreak that has so far sickened 278 people in 18 states.

The producer, Foster Farms, announced on Monday that it is cooperating with federal health officials as investigations by local, state and federal officials continue. Despite its raw chicken products being linked to the dangerous illness, the processing company has not issued any recalls as of this story’s release.

The raw chicken has been linked back to at least three sites owned and operated by Foster Farms, according to a public health alert issued by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Monday. While the illness is being reported across 18 states, the bulk of the outbreak has been seen in California, Oregon and Washington.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has so far not been able to identify the specific product or the production period, but do know that affected products bear one of the following numbers on its packaging: P6137, P6137A or P7632. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also made its presence known, partnering with state health departments to monitor the situation more closely while the FSIS continues its investigation.

However, with the government shutdown now in its second week, current information may not be available on the agencies’ websites.

"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.

This statement could very well be in response to a salmonella outbreak that was traced back to Foster Farms earlier this year when 134 people in 13 states became ill. That previous outbreak, and this new one, are two separate incidents, said Barbara Reynolds, a spokesperson for the CDC. The earlier incident, which sent 33 people to the hospital, was declared over in July.

The link to Foster Farms in this latest outbreak was made via epidemiologic, laboratory and trace-back methods, according to the FSIS.

Salmonella Heidelberg is one of the more common strains that can cause life-threatening illness in the elderly, young children and people with weakened immune systems, such as those with cancer or HIV infection. The most common symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever within eight hours to three days after eating contaminated food. Symptoms can last up to a week or longer and can also include chills, headache and vomiting.

Foster Farms, as well as the FSIS, warn that consumers should always fully cook raw poultry to 165 degrees to kill any bacteria.

However, consumers should never rely on cooking instructions that give a specific number of minutes to cook each side of the food because actual time may vary depending on whether the chicken is broiled, fried or grilled and whether it is chilled or frozen when cooking begins, reads a statement from the FSIS.

Also, poultry should never be washed before cooking, as juices splattered about during rinsing can easily transmit bacteria onto kitchen surfaces, dishes and utensils, as well as other food, further increasing the risk for contamination.

FSIS says anyone with questions on food safety can visit for info 24 hours per day. There’s also a USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-674-6854) available weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EDT.

The CDC reports that an estimated 48 million people contract some form of food poisoning each year in the US. It also states that Salmonella is the top cause of food-borne illness. The findings are from on 2012 report card on food poisoning, based on reports representing about 15 percent of the country.