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 said it 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 following establishment numbers inside a USDA mark of inspection or elsewhere on the package: “P6137”, “P6137A”, or “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.
As of Oct. 8, neither Foster Farms nor FSIS has issued a recall. However, in response to the outbreak, the National Chicken Council (NCC) today joined with the Partnership for Food Safety Education to distribute press releases reminding consumers that using safe handling and cooking practices can prevent illness, even if raw product carries a load of Salmonella sufficient to cause illness.
Their press release states:
"It is always important to consistently follow safe food handling and cooking practices because all raw agricultural products – produce, fruit, meat or poultry – could contain naturally occurring bacteria that might make someone sick," said NCC spokesman Tom Super. "But, there are steps people can take in the home to significantly reduce their risk."
NCC and the Partnership are reminding consumers following a U.S. Department of Agriculture alert regarding an increased incidence of Salmonella Heidelberg infection, mostly in California, that was caused by eating undercooked or improperly handled raw chicken, spanning a nine-month timeframe. There is no recall in effect and fully cooked chicken represents no risk.
It is important to note the Food Safety and Inspection Service, an agency of USDA, has been continuing its regular meat and poultry inspection services despite the government shutdown because it is considered an essential service. As a result, in-plant oversight of food safety, application of proper product labels and humane slaughter are continuing normally.