Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS), along with Empire Kosher Poultry, Inc., issued a public health alert warning consumers about possible Salmonella contamination in raw, kosher chicken products.

Empire’s products that may be affected include raw whole chickens and raw chicken parts that were sold to consumers between September 2017 and June 2018.

It wasn’t until June 18, 2018 that FSIS was notified of multiple Salmonella (strain I 4,[5],12:i:-) illnesses along the East Coast. The outbreak strain was identified in samples from raw chicken collected at two facilities, including one that processes Empire Kosher brand chicken. This led health officials to believe that

Empire Kosher brand raw, kosher chicken products are related to this cluster of illnesses. The samples collected by USDA FSIS at the slaughter and processing establishments were part of USDA FSIS’ routine testing under the Salmonella performance standards. Whole-genome sequencing showed that the Salmonella strain from these samples is closely related genetically to the Salmonella strain from ill people.

Thus far, epidemiological information confirms 17 illnesses in four states--New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Many of the victims reported that they had consumed Empire Kosher brand chicken products. One death in relation to this outbreak has been reported in New York.

FSIS believes that some contaminated products may be frozen and currently stored in consumers’ freezers. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged to properly handle, prepare, and cook these raw chicken products.

On the afternoon of August 31, Food Safety Magazine received via email a statement that was sent on behalf of Empire Kosher. It reads, in part:

We have been cooperating fully with the USDA and the CDC on this matter. The Empire brand takes food safety and the health of our consumers very seriously. Throughout our 80-year history, we have worked with relentless focus to ensure the quality and safety of our products and continue to do so.

The CDC is not advising that consumers avoid eating Empire® brand chicken and no products have been recalled or withdrawn from the marketplace. As with any poultry, when handled and prepared properly, including thoroughly cooking as instructed, our products pose no risk to consumers.   

Empire brand, along with the USDA and the CDC, want to remind consumers of safe handling practices for all raw chicken. When handled and cooked properly to 165 °F, consumers can continue to have full confidence in chicken products. If you live in the areas identified and have any questions please call 1-877-627-2803 to speak with an Empire Consumer Specialist.

The outbreak continues to be investigated by USDA FSIS, CDC, and public health officials.

Sign up for Food Safety Magazine’s bi-weekly emails!

Subscribe to our podcast: Food Safety Matters!