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Chicken is Root of 18-State Salmonella Outbreak

Tue, 10/08/2013 - 12:00pm
Associated Press

Raw chicken. Image: Dnor, WikimediaHealth officials have urged consumers to cook chicken thoroughly and take other precautions as an 18-state salmonella outbreak, which has made hundreds sick in recent months, has been linked to raw chicken.

A public health alert was issued for raw chicken packaged at three Foster Farms facilities in California as some 278 people have fallen ill since strains of Salmonella Heidelberg were first detected in March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says in a statement.

The strains were associated with chicken distributed to retail outlets in California, Oregon and Washington state, the USDA says. The illnesses have been predominantly in California but the salmonella has reached people from 18 states, the statement says.

The outbreak appears to have begun in March and the USDA was notified of the illnesses in July, says Dan Engeljohn of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Investigators had a difficult time pinpointing the source of the illnesses, Englejohn says.

A spokesman for Foster Farms says no recall was in effect and that the infections were caused by eating chicken that was undercooked or improperly handled. The three facilities that packaged the chicken were all in California's Central Valley — one in Livingston and two in Fresno.

The USDA has not directly linked the outbreak of illnesses to a specific product or production period. The USDA mark on suspect packages would read: P6137, P6137A and P7632.

State health officials are not planning a recall, but says it is essential that chicken be cooked to 165 F.

"This is the important public health issue," Anita Gore, spokeswoman for the California Department of Public Health, says. "Chicken can carry bacteria, and chicken needs to be fully cooked."

Gore also says people need to thoroughly wash their hands after handling raw meat, and anyone who believes they were infected and is showing symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal cramps should contact doctors immediately.

Salmonella is a pathogen that contaminates meat during slaughter and processing, and is especially common in undercooked chicken.

The Centers for Disease Control, which monitors the microbes that signal multi-state outbreaks of food poisoning, is working with a barebones staff because of the federal government shutdown, with all but two of the 80 staffers that normally analyze foodborne pathogens furloughed. It is not yet clear whether the shortage affected the response to the salmonella outbreak.

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