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October 7, 2013
 

USDA alert warns of salmonella on Foster Farms raw chicken

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The following alert was issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. See below for the response from Foster Farms.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing a public health alert due to concerns that illness caused by strains of Salmonella Heidelberg are associated with raw chicken products produced by Foster Farms at three facilities in California.

At this point in the investigation, FSIS is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period. Raw products from the facilities in question bear one of the establishment numbers inside a USDA mark of inspection or elsewhere on the package:

  • “P6137”
  • “P6137A”
  • “P7632”

The products were mainly distributed to retail outlets in California, Oregon and Washington State.

This public health alert is being issued after an estimated 278 illnesses were recently reported in 18 states, predominantly in California. The outbreak is continuing. 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. Illnesses were linked to Foster Farms brand chicken through epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is partnering with state health departments to monitor the outbreak while FSIS continues its investigation.

The investigation is ongoing and FSIS is prepared to take additional actions or expand the investigation based on new evidence.

FSIS reminds consumers to properly handle raw poultry in a manner to prevent contamination from spreading to other foods and food contact surfaces.

FSIS further reminds consumers of the critical importance of following package cooking instructions for frozen or fresh chicken products and general food safety guidelines when handling and preparing any raw meat or poultry. In particular, while cooking instructions may give a specific number of minutes of cooking for each side of the product in order to attain 165 °F internal temperature, consumers should be aware that actual time may vary depending on the cooking method (broiling, frying, or grilling) and the temperature of the product (chilled versus frozen) so it is important that the final temperature of 165 °F must be reached for safety. Please do not rely on the cooking time for each side of the product, but use a food thermometer.

All poultry products should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165° F as determined by a food thermometer. Using a food thermometer is the only way to know that food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria.

Consumption of food contaminated with Salmonella can cause salmonellosis, one of the most common bacterial foodborne illnesses. Salmonella infections can be life-threatening, especially to those with weak immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy. The most common symptoms of salmonellosis are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within eight to 72 hours. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.

Foster Farms response to USDA alert

Food safety is Foster Farms’ highest priority. Foster Farms is working in partnership with USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to reduce incidence of Salmonella Heidelberg on raw chicken products produced at three company facilities in Central California. Only raw chicken products are involved. This activity is in response to an FSIS-issued alert regarding the increased incidence of Salmonella Heidelberg infection caused by eating undercooked or improperly handled chicken. 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. No recall is in effect.

The FSIS alert states: “FSIS further reminds consumers of the critical importance of following package cooking instructions for frozen or fresh chicken products and general food safety guidelines when handling and preparing any raw meat or poultry…. All poultry products should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165° F as determined by a food thermometer. Using a food thermometer is the only way to know that food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria.”

“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.”

“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. It is also important to reassure the public that the FSIS process has not been affected by the recent government shutdown.”

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.

Foster Farms reminds consumers to follow the Poultry ABCs – Always Be Careful. Raw poultry must be handled and cooked in accordance with the safe handling guidelines on all packages of chicken. These include: keeping the product refrigerated or frozen; thawing in refrigerator or microwave; keeping raw meat and poultry separate from other foods; washing working surfaces (including cutting boards), utensils and hands after touching raw meat or poultry; keeping hot foods hot; and refrigerating leftovers immediately or discarding. All fresh poultry products should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F as measured by a meat thermometer. Visit www.fosterfarms.com or call Foster Farms at 800-338-8051 to learn more.

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