However, the company has refused to recall any more products, meaning the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has been forced to direct its staff to actively seek out the company’s products on shop shelves and in restaurant kitchens and detain them.
According to FSIS, there is a “systematic problem at the establishment” and it said it was concerned about all frozen, raw, stuffed and breaded chicken products produced by Aspen Foods between 30 July 2015 and 17 September 2015.
Following an initial recall on 15 July of nearly two million (m) lb of chicken products, FSIS conducted intensified sampling at the plant to ensure the initial contamination had been controlled by Aspen Foods. Results from FSIS sampling show this was not the case and 12 positive results that match the outbreak strain of Salmonella have been confirmed.
Diahorrea and vomiting
Three illnesses have been epidemiologically linked to the plant. Salmonella causes diahorrea and vomiting and lasts between three and seven days. In severe cases, usually affecting children and the elderly, patients can be hospitalised.
The frozen, raw, stuffed and breaded chicken items are produced under numerous brands, including Acclaim, Antioch Farms, Buckley Farms, Centrella Signature, Chestnut Farms, Family Favorites, Kirkwood, Koch Foods, Market Day, Oven Cravers, Rose, Rosebud Farm, Roundy’s, Safeway Kitchens, Schwan’s, Shaner’s, Spartan, Sysco. They bear the establishment number ‘P-1358’ inside the USDA mark of inspection and were shipped to retail and foodservice businesses nationwide.
A spokeswoman for Aspen Foods told GlobalMeatNews all its staff were “tied up dealing with the situation” and it had “no comment” to make on the current FSIS alert.
However, the company released a statement on September 18 stating that it remained confident in the safety of its raw, breaded, stuffed chicken breast products. They had been produced in full compliance with US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations and inspected and passed by USDA, it said.
July 15 recall
Prior to the July 15 recall, the USDA had identified three human cases of salmonellosis, but couldn't find a product that tested positive for the same strain. It had focused on Aspen Foods because the ill people recalled eating our products, along with many other foods, the company said.
"Despite the fact that USDA never found the strain of Salmonella they sought in our products, we agreed to recall voluntarily on July 15," Aspen Foods said. "In addition, we implemented new food safety measures to reduce Salmonella and our own testing data shows that our efforts were successful.
"Now, months later, after USDA tested our products intensively, they have finally found the strain of Salmonella they were seeking. Salmonella at low levels is permitted on raw poultry because it occurs there naturally and because cooking destroys it. In contrast to the July situation, USDA has now found the pathogen, but they haven't found people with the illnesses during the time these products were produced and marketed. Nevertheless, USDA asked us to recall six weeks of additional production. This time, based on the advice of our food safety experts and legal counsel, we are declining to recall.
'Confusion and concern'
"The safety of our products and the confidence of our customer is critically important to us. However, without clear evidence to justify this massive new recall, we believe that complying with USDA's request will only create confusion and concern in the marketplace and harm our company's reputation when we have been cooperative and proactive, and when we have evidence to show that our products are safe and compliant with federal rules."
The company said its cooking instructions included on every package were validated as effective and approved by USDA and product labels clearly stated that the product had to be cooked in accordance with these instructions.
"The USDA's statement in its news release questioning the effectiveness of those instructions is puzzling," it stated. "We invite consumers to view this important new video about the safe preparation of raw, breaded, stuffed chicken breast products. The video was reviewed by USDA prior to its release to ensure that it was accurate and effective."
Aspen Foods invited consumers with questions or concerns to contact its consumer hotline at (844) 277-6802.