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Health Alert: Foster Farms Chicken Source of Salmonella Outbreak

Company officials say there is no recall; those who became ill ate undercooked or improperly handled chicken.

By Christine Huard

Health officials are warning consumers about a salmonella outbreak affecting raw chicken produced at three California facilities. The chicken was sold here as well as in Oregon and Washington, and the contamination appears to have sickened nearly 300 people across the county, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A recall is not in effect.

Investigators with the Food Safety and Inspection Service say the outbreak is continuing after an estimated 278 illnesses were recently reported in 18 states, predominately in California. The illnesses have been linked to Foster Farms brand raw chicken, and the likely source of infection is being caused by strains of Salmonella Heidelberg.

According to Dr. Robert O'Connor, Foster Farms' food safety chief and head veterinarian, salmonella is naturally occurring in poultry and can be avoided if the raw product is properly handled and fully cooked.

Investigators have not yet been able to pinpoint a specific product or production period, however. The outbreak appears to be associated with products marked “P6137,” “P6137A” and “P7632,” according to the USDA.

Investigators say 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 says the products have not been recalled, and that the infections were caused when consumers ate chicken that had been undercooked or handled improperly during preparation. A company spokesperson says the chicken presents no risk when it is fully cooked and consumers use safe food handling practices.

The USDA recommends the following guidelines to properly handle raw poultry in a manner to prevent contamination from spreading to other foods and food contact surfaces:

—Follow 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.

—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 food-borne bacteria.
JJ Mclure October 09, 2013 at 10:25 AM
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