Foster Farms Chicken Recall Leads Lawmakers to Call for Plant Shutdown

An undetermined amount of Foster Farms chicken products may be contaminated with the same strain of drug-resistant salmonella that has sickened more than 600 people nationwide since October, resulting in yet another recall and calls from U.S. lawmakers to shut the poultry farm down. 

On July 4, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced a Foster Farms chicken recall that affects every fresh chicken product sold by the company between March 16 and March 31.

The recall comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notified the FSIS of a case of Salmonella Heidelberg food poisoning on June 23. The illness was linked to Foster Farms boneless, skinless chicken breast and is the same strain that has been making consumers ill since last year.

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At least 621 cases of salmonella food poisoning in 29 states have been linked to Foster Farms chicken products to date, according to the CDC’s outbreak website.¬†More than a third of those who have become ill required hospitalization, according to the CDC.

U.S. Representatives Rosa DeLauro, from Connecticut, and Louise Slaughter, from New York, are calling for Foster Farms to be shut down at least until the current salmonella outbreak has been resolved, pointing out that if people are still getting ill off chicken made at the factory in March, then the company has not yet cleaned up its act or identified the actual problem.

However, FSIS officials say this is the first case where they were able to establish a direct link between Foster Farms chicken and a human illness and do not have the authority to force the company to shut down.

“Until this point, there had been no direct evidence that linked the illnesses associated with this outbreak to a specific product or production lot,” the FSIS states in its recall notice. “Evidence that is required for a recall includes obtaining case-patient product that tests positive for the same particular strain of Salmonella that caused the illness, packaging on product that clearly links the product to a specific facility and a specific production date, and records documenting the shipment and distribution of the product from purchase point of the case-patient to the originating facility.”

The FSIS has made it clear Foster Farms chicken was suspected of being the cause of the outbreak since October, and neither the FSIS or the CDC has offered any other possible cause.

The recall announced last week includes fresh chicken products sold under the Foster Farm or private labels with “use or freeze by” dates from March 16 through March 31, 2014, and frozen Sunland chicken products with “best by” dates of March 7 through March 11, 2015. All affected products will have a USDA mark of inspection with an establishment number of P6137, P6137A, or P7632.

All recalled chicken was produced between March 7 and March 13 and shipped to Costco, Foodmaxx, Kroger, Safeway and other retail stores and distribution centers. The chicken was shipped to Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

The original Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak was first announced in October, but officials say they believe the first illnesses started in July 2013, a year ago. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shut down Foster Farms’ Livingston, California poultry plant temporarily in January, due to a cockroach infestation. The same plant has been linked to the salmonella outbreak.

Salmonella attacks the gastrointestinal tract, causing mild to severe symptoms. For most healthy adults, problems associated with food poisoning from salmonella typically resolve after a few days or weeks. However, young children, the elderly, and individuals with compromised immune systems have an increased risk of suffering severe food poisoning after ingesting the bacteria. If not properly treated, some cases of salmonella food poisoning can lead to hospitalization, dehydration or death.

The FSIS and CDC warn that frozen chicken affected by this recall may still be in some consumer’s freezers. They should check to see if they have the recalled chicken and make sure they do not eat it.

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