The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a public health alert Monday, after Salmonella found in Foster Farms chicken has led to an estimated 278 illnesses.
According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, strains of Salmonella Heidelberg have been found in raw chicken produced at three California Foster Farms facilities, two in Fresno and one in Livingston. Foster Farms operates a turkey processing plant in Turlock.
“The investigations indicate that consumption of Foster Farms brand chicken and other brand chicken produced at Foster Farms plants are the likely source of this outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections,” the USDA report reads.
The revelation follows epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is partnering with state health departments to monitor the outbreak while the investigation continues.
Foster Farms says it remains committed to safety, and apologizes for any foodbourne illness it may have caused.
“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. “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.”
The 278 affected persons have been located in 18 states, predominantly California. The outbreak is continuing.
Consumption of chicken contaminated with Salmonella can cause salmonellosis, a common bacterial foodborne illness. The infection can be life-threatening to those with weak immune systems, but most are affected with diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within eight to 72 hours of consumption.
The USDA recommends all consumers handle raw poultry carefully to prevent the spread of Salmonella contamination to other foods and surfaces. Any raw chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit for safety.
“Salmonella is naturally occurring in poultry and can be fully eradicated if raw product is properly handled and fully cooked,” said Dr. Robert O’Connor, the company’s food safety chief and head veterinarian. “All poultry producers strive to reduce bacterial presence, including Salmonella. We take food safety very seriously. When the incidence of illnesses linked to Salmonella increased, we wanted to know why and we have worked quickly to identify and implement additional controls.”
All raw products from the facilities in question bear one of the following numbers somewhere on the package: P6137, P6137A, or P7632.