Salmonella Outbreak to Trigger Possible Closure of Plants: Public Health Alert Issued [Update]

Salmonella outbreak spread to trigger closure of Foster Farms Plants

Foster Farms Plants Remain in Operation

Update (Oct. 11, 2013): the U.S. Department of Agriculture has recently indicated that the three processing plants linked to the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak, owned by Foster Farms, will be permitted to remain in operation.

The USDA issued a statement confirming that the plants in Fresno and Livingston would remain open, after the company agreed to improve health and safety protocols.

USDA spokesman Aaron Lavallee had this to say on Thursday evening:

“Foster Farms has submitted and implemented immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations… FSIS inspectors will verify that these changes are being implemented in a continuous and ongoing basis. Additionally, the agency will continue intensified sampling for at least the next 90 days.”

In a prepared statement, released on Wednesday, Foster Farms President Ron Foster claimed that his company had introduced new technologies and initiatives, earlier on in the year, to combat high-level Salmonella contamination more effectively. Nonetheless, Foster contends that the company is “… taking every possible step to ensure the current and future safety…” of their chicken-based products.

Meanwhile, federal officials state that the outbreak is continuing to grow, with more than 300 cases across 20 states of America, as well as Puerto Rico, having been confirmed by the CDC.

Consumer Reports suggests that other major brands could also be involved in the Salmonella outbreak, which are allegedly handled in the same processing plants. They cite the following as examples:

  • Eating Right
  • Kirkland Signature
  • O Organics
  • Open Nature
  • Ralphs
  • Safeway Farms
  • Simple Truth Organic

Consumer Reports advises customers to avoid raw chicken goods with the following three plant codes: P-6137, P-6137A and P-7632.

Customers are also advised to continue following appropriate hygiene and cooking practices when handling raw chicken, as detailed further in this article.

The Closure of California Chicken Plants

Original article (Oct. 10, 2013): A recent Salmonella outbreak could trigger the closure of up to three chicken-processing plants, owned by the company implicated in the spread, Foster Farms. This comes in the wake of a public health alert, which was issued Monday, cautioning consumers over the procurement and consumption of many of the company’s chicken-based products.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will ultimately determine whether the Californian chicken-processing plants in question, that have been attributed to a nationwide Salmonella

Foster Farms chicken products caused public health alert too be issued
The latest Salmonella outbreak has been linked to Foster Farms chickens, derived from three processing plants

Heidelberg outbreak, will remain in operation by the end of the business day.

The company in question, Foster Farms, has been implicated in the dissemination of an antibiotic-resistant strain of Salmonella, responsible for causing illness in hundreds of people across the nation.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the USDA sent a letter to Foster Farms, explaining the seriousness of the incident, as well as the unhygienic conditions that plagued a number of their facilities; the organization maintained that these problems represented a threat to public health.

As a consequence, the USDA demanded that Foster Farms develop plans to remedy the situation by the closing of Thursday Oct. 10, otherwise three of these plants would face closure.

The Return of Furloughed CDC Workers

The government shutdown has recently placed an even greater strain on coordinating efforts to mitigate the spread of the bacterial infection.

However, attempts to rectify the problem are currently underway, with the announcement that 30 furloughed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) employees are resuming fulltime employment. Barbara Reynolds, a spokesperson for the CDC, claimed that ten workers, involved in dealing with food-borne outbreaks, were anticipated to return to their posts.

The alarming rate of disease spread, along with the high number infected patients that have required hospitalization, appears to have provoked the reinstatement of furloughed CDC workers. Since March, reports indicate that over 270 people across 18 states have become ill from chickens purportedly derived from three Foster Farms plants, situated in California. Thus far, at least 76 of those infected have been hospitalized for additional treatment.

According to Philly.com, another CDC spokesman, called John O’Connor, tentatively theorizes that the increased number of infected persons admitted to hospital could be related to antibiotic resistance:

“The typical hospitalization rate for salmonellosis is around 20 percent… Antibiotic resistance, as seen in this outbreak, may be associated with an increased risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals.”

Persons infected by Salmonella outbreak by state
Diagram showing the number of persons infected by the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg, according to state

According to statistics collected by the CDC, 42 percent of all ill persons have been taken to hospital, with the majority of incidences occurring in California. So far, no deaths have been reported.

What is Salmonella and How Does it Cause Infection?

Salmonella is a highly motile, rod-shaped enterobacteria, predominately residing within the gut. They are defined as zoonotic, and can be transferred between humans and other species of animals.

Salmonella is contracted, typically, through ingestion of infected food products. Most often, the acidic pH of the stomach is capable of denaturing the bacteria, preventing it from causing pathology. Therefore, large numbers of the bacteria typically need to be ingested to allow a sufficient number of microbes to enter the small intestines and cause infection in healthy individuals.

High concentrations of Salmonella may be found within raw or poorly cooked food. However, Salmonella can originate from a wide variety of environmental sources, including water, soil, factory settings and contaminated animals.

Once ingested, the bacteria begin multiplying rapidly within the lumen of the intestines and begin churning out toxins, a condition called salmonellosis. In turn, invasion of the cells lining the small and large intestines triggers an inflammatory response, diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. When the dead bacteria begin to die, and undergo lysis, they release endotoxins that induce a wide variety of mechanisms, and cause fever-like symptoms.

Pathogenesis of Salmonella in infected persons
Diagram showing the pathogenesis of Salmonella in the infected gut; ultimately, the epithelial cells of the intestines release water and electrolytes, potentially causing diarrhea and dehydration, whilst systemic dissemination can trigger a more serious form of the disease

Salmonella bacteria may then migrate into the lymphatic system around the intestines, eventually reaching the bloodstream. Depending upon the type of Salmonella infection, a patient’s condition can progressively worsen, with disease spread branching out into the liver, spleen, gallbladder, bones and even the meninges lining the central nervous system.

Young children, the elderly and individuals with weakened immune systems are all at risk of developing serious illness from Salmonella infection.

Investigation of Foster Farms

Epidemiological and laboratory investigations have been performed, alongside traceback studies, all of which cumulatively incriminates a number of Foster Farms’ chicken-processing plants as the likely origins of the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak.

All patients that were reported ill underwent an interview to provide officials with a greater understanding of the potential exposures that may have caused the infections. Of the 132 interviewed persons, 105 reportedly consumed chicken the week prior to illness. Delving a little deeper, out of 61 of the interviewed people who were able to recall the specific brand of chicken they had consumed, 48 (79%) ill persons claimed to have eaten Foster Farms chicken.

Meanwhile, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) was involved in a surveillance regime to monitor the presence of antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella, amongst other pathogens. Scientists working within NARMS laboratories recently identified four of the seven outbreak strains from five chicken breasts and wings that were Foster Farms retail samples, collected within California. Four of the isolated strains were resistant to one or more antibiotics, whilst two were classified as multidrug resistant (i.e. resistant to three or more antibiotic classes).

Bolstering the strength of their conclusions, when conducting preliminary laboratory tests on chickens derived from a number of Foster Farms facilities, four of the outbreak strains were isolated from a variety of chicken products at three different Foster Farms facilities.

Public Health Alert and Recommendations

With the weight of evidence implicating Foster Farms as the source of Salmonella, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) was been compelled to issue a public health alert on Monday.

The USDA-FSIS public health alert offers citizens the following advice:

  • Follow cooking instructions and safety recommendations on packaging for frozen and fresh chicken products
  • Despite packaging recommendations, consumers should be aware that cooking time will vary, depending upon the method used (e.g. broiling, frying, grilling) and the initial temperature of the product (i.e. frozen versus chilled)
  • A final, internal temperature of 165 °F should be achieved for cooked chicken products, as measured using a food thermometer

Meanwhile, the CDC suggests consumers wash their hands before and after handling any form of raw meat and seafood. All cooking utensils and countertops should be thoroughly cleaned, and surfaces that have been in contact with raw meat should be sanitized. In addition, the agency recommends separating raw meat from other food products when cooking and storing their goods; all meats and seafood must also be stored at appropriate temperatures.

Poultry Living Conditions & Antibiotic-Resistant Salmonella

The outbreak also raises serious concerns over the safety of poultry products distributed throughout America. Large numbers of chickens are reared in unsanitary environments,

Salmonella outbreaks caused by live poultry since 1990s
Diagram depicting the number of outbreaks of Salmonella caused by live poultry since the 1990s

which are poorly maintained and cleaned.

According to Bill Marler, a food safety attorney, liberal use of antibiotics throughout the agricultural industry have been responsible for the development of highly dangerous, multidrug resistant forms of Salmonella. He blames the USDA for being too “gun-shy” with regards to Salmonella, stating:

“The reality on the ground is not keeping up with science.”

Antibiotics are commonly used in agriculture for several reasons, including promotion of animal growth, to enhance feed efficiency, and to prevent disease spread amongst livestock. Judicious use of these antibiotics have health experts rattled, who now believe there to be a relationship between their agricultural use and the development of antibiotic-resistant infections within the human population.

The bacteria infects the intestinal tracts of various animals. Once these animals defecate, the bacteria in the feces can then infect neighboring creatures. Chickens that are confined to small, poorly maintained areas are likely to contract the disease more readily.

A verdict is yet to be reached as to whether the Salmonella outbreak will trigger the closure of some of Foster Farms’ processing plants.

By: James Fenner

Original article sources:

CDC Website

WHO Website

IDSA Website Link

USDA Public Health Alert

NCBI Salmonella Site

LA Times Link

Philly.com Link

Foster Farms Press Release

Update Sources:

Consumer Reports Update

Food Safety News Link

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