An outbreak of salmonella that has made hundreds sick was linked to raw chicken products produced in local Foster Farms facilities, reported the United States Department of Agriculture on Monday.
A public health alert was issued after 278 illnesses were reported in 18 states, predominantly in California. The USDA's investigation found that consumption of Foster Farms brand chicken and other brand chicken produced at Foster Farms' Livingston and Fresno plants are the likely source of this outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections.
Foster Farms said that food safety is the company's highest priority and it is working with the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Centers for Disease Control to reduce incidence of salmonella on its raw chicken products.
“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 in a released statement. “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.”
Both Foster Farms and the FSIS are urging consumers to cook chicken thoroughly.
Salmonella Heidelberg is the nation’s third most common strain of the salmonella pathogen, which can result in foodborne illness if not destroyed by the heat of proper cooking. All poultry products should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165° F as determined by a food thermometer, stated the FSIS.
A recall of Foster Farms raw chicken products has not been issued.
The Associated Press reported that the Centers for Disease Control, which monitors the microbes that signal multi-state outbreaks of food poisoning, was working with a barebones staff because of the federal government shutdown, with all but two of the 80 staffers that normally analyze foodborne pathogens furloughed. It was not immediately clear whether the shortage affected the response to the salmonella outbreak.