The U.S. Department of Agriculture warned the public on Monday about a salmonella outbreak traced to Foster Farms chicken.
The agency said nearly 280 illnesses in 18 states had been traced to raw poultry from three Foster Farms facilities in California. The chicken was distributed mainly to stores in Oregon, Washington and California. The USDA said most of those sickened live in California.
Foster Farms said in a statement that it had bolstered food safety practices at the three plants in central California.
“We deeply regret any foodborne illness that may be associated with any of our products,” Ron Foster, Foster Farms president said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring the safety of our products, and our family owned company has maintained an excellent food safety record during its 80-year history.”
Salmonella, like other foodborne bacteria, can cause a range of gastrointestional symptoms, including cramps, diarrhea and fever within eight to 72 hours after consumption. It can also be deadly.
The USDA allows producers to sell raw poultry with a nearly 10 percent incidence rate of salmonella. Foster Farms says it’s always met that standard. It is not issuing a recall.
Earlier this year, Oregon and Washington health authorities issued a similar health alert, after a spike in cases in 2012. Oregon health officials have been tracking a specific strain of Salmonella found in Foster Farms chicken since 2003. The first illnesses in Oregon popped up in 2004.
Oregon epidemiologists alerted the company and the USDA in 2004 or 2005. The USDA told The Oregonian it’s been investigating the company since this past February.
So far this year, Oregon health authorities have confirmed two cases of Salmonella Heidelberg associated with Foster Farms chicken, according to Susan Wickstrom, a Public Health Division spokeswoman. One case was in Multnomah County and the other was in Marion County. Those two cases compare with 43 in Oregon in 2012.
Salmonella, the number one foodborne pathogen in the United States, is killed by thorough cooking. Foster Farms advised consumers to cook raw poultry to 165 degrees.
— Lynne Terry