U.S. warns about salmonella believed to be linked to a poultry farm
By STEPHANIE STROM
The New York Times | October 10,2013
A sign marks the entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tuesday in Atlanta. The CDC has recalled some of its furloughed staff to deal with the salmonella outbreak, which has sickened more than 270 people.
The Agriculture Department issued a public health alert this week, saying that a strain of salmonella may have sickened 278 people who reported becoming ill after they ate poultry produced by Foster Farms.
The Food Safety Inspection Service, which issued the alert Monday, said it could not link the illnesses to a specific product or an exact production time, but it stated that the raw meats “in question” were being sold in packages bearing the codes P6137, P6137A and P7632, which are the listings for the Foster Farms plants in which the products were processed.
Although the service said people in 18 states had become ill after eating Foster Farms poultry, almost 80 percent of those affected were in California, said Dr. David P. Goldman, assistant administrator of the Office of Public Health Science at the service.
This is not the first time the government has linked Foster Farms poultry to salmonella poisoning. In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported tying 134 cases of it dating back to June 2012, including 33 that required hospitalization, to Foster Farms products.
Almost half of the cases in that outbreak were in Washington state, and 40 percent were in Oregon, Goldman said. Foster Farms referred calls to Tom Super, the spokesman for the National Chicken Council. Super said that he could not speak for the company, but he added that as far as he knew the cases in the most recent outbreak had started showing up about nine months ago.
“This isn’t a recall, because they haven’t been able to link it to a specific product,” Super said. “The service listed the codes of the plants where these products originated, but it doesn’t indicate that every product or even most products made in those plants are unsafe.”
Rather, he said, the public health alert is aimed at reminding consumers that they should cook all chicken to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that all bacteria are killed. Still, public health alerts are relatively rare, and food safety advocates immediately moved to blame the lack of a full-blown recall on the government shutdown.
But Goldman said that all of the nation’s meat inspection services were up and running and that the Food Safety Inspection Services’ front-line inspectors, investigators and labs had been working around the clock to try to get to the bottom of the latest outbreak. He said the service had not issued a recall because it had already devised a testing plan it used through much of last month.
The Food Safety Inspection Service began investigating the most recent outbreak in July, asking patients for shopping receipts and other shopping records to identify the products. Once it determined that the products had come from Foster Farms, the company was contacted.
On its website, Foster Farms said that it was cooperating with the Agriculture Department and the CDC and that it had already taken steps to ensure that the plants in question were free of the pathogen.
Goldman suggested that consumers refer to the service’s website for information about how to handle meat to avoid food-borne illness.