Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Chicken May Be Drug Resistant

Federal health regulators warn that a nationwide outbreak of salmonella food poisoning linked to Foster Farms raw chicken products, which has sickened roughly 278 people in 18 states, may be drug resistant and hard to treat.  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a public health alert on October 8, after epidemiologic and laboratory testing of Foster Farms chicken products were linked to sickened patients.

The majority of confirmed illnesses have come from California, Washington, and Oregon where the products were predominately sold.

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At least 76 of the patients have been hospitalized, according to investigators, and many of the cases appear to involve a strain of salmonella that is drug-resistant, making it especially hard to fight.

Investigators say the outbreak is linked to Foster Farms raw chicken packages bearing one of the following establishment numbers inside of the USDA mark of inspection; P6137, P6137A, P7632. These specific packages are suspected to be the cause of the outbreak after testing linked the strains of Salmonella found in sick patients with the strands found at three of the company’s plants in California.

FSIS investigators believe the salmonella outbreak started in July, when 134 people were sickened by salmonella infections in 13 states, leaving 33 hospitalized. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) announced the outbreaks were caused by different strains of salmonella.

According to the CDC, the outbreak involved at least seven different strains, which may be why some patients appear to have a form of food poisoning that is hard to treat with antibiotics while others do not.

Salmonella bacterium has over 2,300 serotypes that are impossible to see from the naked eye. The CDC estimates that Salmonella infections account for roughly 1.4 million food borne illnesses per year and roughly 400 fatalities annually in the United States alone.

Salmonella infections may pose serious and sometimes fatal infections among those with weakened immune systems such as children, the elderly and pregnant women. Symptoms for healthy individuals typically consist of fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In some cases the salmonella infection can spread to the blood stream resulting in more severe illnesses such as arterial infections, endocarditis, and arthritis.

A recent study released by Consumer Reports has given insight on how farm animals may be becoming immune to antibiotics given to them during the farming process, allowing bacteria and parasites to remain in the products once processed. The study was conducted on 257 randomly selected brands of ground turkey in local retail stores from 21 states. After testing the products for contamination results showed 90% of the products were contaminated with harmful bacteria such as salmonella, fecal bacteria, staphylococcus aureus, enterococcus, and E. coli. Furthermore, results showed that eght out of every 12 samples that tested positive for salmonella were resistant to the antibiotics given to prevent the infection.

The FSIS announced that no recall has been initiated but consumers should verify whether any raw chicken in their possession may be part of the health alert. Consumers should always follow proper sanitary protocols when handling and preparing raw meats and poultry.

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