October 7, 2013

Salmonella cases may be linked to Foster Farms

USDA says 278 people might have become ill from undercooked or improperly handled chicken from Foster Farms.

A federal agency said Monday that 278 people might have been infected with salmonella from Foster Farms chicken that was undercooked or improperly handled.

No recall has been issued, and the Livingston-based company is advising consumers that its products are safe if stored, handled and cooked properly.

No deaths were reported in the notice from the Food Safety and Inspection Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most of the cases are in California, but people in 17 other states also were affected, the agency said.

It did not say when these people were infected by the bacteria, which can cause digestive problems and other symptoms.

The notice said the main plant in Livingston and two smaller sites in Fresno were the “likely source” of the chicken.

Foster Farms said it was working with the FSIS and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the problem.

“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,” President Ron Foster said in a news release. “We deeply regret any foodborne illness that may be associated with any of our products.”

The notice involves raw chicken with one of these stamps on the label: P6137, P6137A or P7632. The FSIS said it has not been able to link the illnesses to a specific product or production period.

The notice said the illnesses were linked to Foster Farms chicken through “epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials.”

At issue is the Heidelberg strain of salmonella. The FSIS said the most common symptoms are diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within eight to 72 hours. Chills, headache, nausea and vomiting can last up to seven days.

The notice said the bacteria are especially troublesome for people with weak immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and people who have an HIV infection or are undergoing chemotherapy.

“Salmonella is naturally occurring in poultry and can be fully eradicated if raw product is properly handled and fully cooked,” said Robert O’Connor, the company’s food safety chief and head veterinarian, in the release. “All poultry producers strive to reduce bacterial presence, including salmonella. We take food safety very seriously.”

Foster Farms also produces many cooked chicken items as well as turkey products at its Turlock plant.

The FSIS issued the alert by email Monday afternoon from the office of congressional and public affairs in Washington, D.C. When The Modesto Bee called to clarify several points, a recorded message said the staff does not have access to email or voice mail because of the federal shutdown.

Foster Farms said the shutdown has not affected the USDA food safety inspectors who work at its plants.

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