“The outbreak is not over,” says Dr. Rob Tauxe, the CDC’s deputy director of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases. The latest figures indicate that at least 524 people in 25 states and Puerto Rico have fallen victim to contaminated chicken from Foster Farms that contains a particularly tough strain of salmonella. Despite ongoing investigations by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it seems there is no end in sight for the Foster Farms salmonella outbreak that has been bullying its way across the country – it just keeps coming and coming.
The illnesses were first detected March 1, 2013 and the latest one discovered to date was on March 18, 2014. For over a year this outbreak has eluded officials, and scientists can not guess when it will end. At least 37 percent of the victims of this outbreak, nearly 200 people, have been hospitalized as a result of their illness. Almost all victims report eating chicken before becoming sick, and of these almost all report that the brand of chicken they consumed was Foster Farms. Part of the problem officials are experiencing in their efforts to contain the outbreak is that it involves seven rare and drug-resistant strains of Salmonella Heidelberg. Bacterias that are drug-resistant often lead to a higher rate of hospitalization because doctors have a hard time dealing effectively with the infection.
Over three-quarters of all cases have been reported in California, where officials from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) threatened to close three separate Foster Farms plants because they detected unacceptably high levels of salmonella. However, the plants were never closed because the company eventually brought those levels down so that they complied with federal guidelines. The FSIS did shut down one plant in central California for two weeks as a result of a cockroach infestation they found there.
Foster Farms says they are working hard to discover the source of the salmonella outbreak, but despite their efforts, reports of sickened consumers just keep coming out. They say that they are working to eliminate–or at least reduce–salmonella from every stage of their production process. They are inspecting the slaughterhouses, farms and processing plants across every stage of production in a company-wide effort to clean up their act. In addition, the company has issued warnings to consumers about the threat of possible food poisoning incidents in the immediate future.
In the meantime, Foster Farms has not offered to recall their meats, and is not required to do so under any federal guidelines. There is no regulation that states that raw meat or poultry needs to be salmonella-free. It is in fact the consumer’s responsibility to handle raw meat in a hygienic manner, keeping food preparation surfaces and utensils clean and free of cross-contamination. Meat should be cooked throughout to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember that only one drop of juice from contaminated poultry could make an entire family fall victim to salmonella poisoning.
Despite the efforts of the USDA, CDC, and Foster Farms themselves, the salmonella outbreaks keeps coming to the surface. And with summer approaching and the warmer weather being an even friendlier environment for bacteria to propagate and contaminate food, caution is of the utmost importance.
By Peter Barreda