So far, around 278 people have fallen ill with Salmonella Heidelberg across 18 states, although cases have been concentrated in California. In a public health alert issued this week, the FSIS said that epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback investigations had linked the outbreak to raw chicken from three California plants run by Foster Farms.
The FSIS did not issue a recall and said it was currently unable to link the illnesses to a specific product or production period. However, investigations are ongoing and the agency said it was “prepared to take additional actions or expand the investigation based on new evidence”.
The notice reminded consumers of the critical importance of handling raw chicken carefully to avoid spreading contamination, and cooking it thoroughly to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
In a statement, Foster Farms confirmed it was working with the FSIS and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to reduce salmonella contamination at its facilities, and said it had implemented additional food safety practices, processes and technology across its operations.
“We are committed to ensuring the safety of our products, and our family-owned company has maintained an excellent food safety record during its near 80-year history,” said Foster Farms president Ron Foster.
“We deeply regret any foodborne illness that may be associated with any of our products. Food safety is at the very heart of our business. It is a continuous process of improvement. In addition to collaborating with FSIS and CDC, the company has retained national experts in epidemiology and food safety technology to assess current practices and identify opportunities for further improvement.”
The company’s food safety chief and head veterinarian Dr Robert O’Connor stressed that Foster Farms had reacted quickly to implement extra controls and reminded consumers consumers that salmonella could be completely eradicated through cooking.