Foster Farms Brand Chicken is one of the nation’s most popular in both supermarkets and for use in restaurant cooking. But over the last 15 months, at least 574 confirmed cases of Salmonella Heidelberg, including as many as seven separate strains of the bacteria, have been linked to consumption of this product. And while it is impossible to state with certainly, the actual number of victims may be approaching twenty thousand, based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimation that only about 1 in 30 victims of food poisoning seek medical attention. And in fact in March of this year NBC News’ Jonel Aleccia estimated the number of actual Foster Farms Brand Chicken salmonella victims to be approximately 16,000, including those who did not seek medical attention and the many who might have but did not provide a stool sample for analysis, something the food safety lawyers at Ron Simon & Associates always encourage potential victims to pursue.
This newly revised number of 574 reflects victims identified in 27 states and Puerto Rico, all of whom have been sickened in the last 15 months (illness onset since March 1 of 2013) with one of the known stains of Foster Farms Salmonella Heidelberg. The CDC’s newest numbers are alarming because the CDC had announced at the beginning of 2014 that the outbreak was believed to have ended. But in March it revised upwards the 430 victims in 23 states to 480 in 25 states. And now, in May of 2014, the official count is 574 in the 27 states plus Puerto Rico., Most heavily impacted is California, which has over 3 in 4 of confirmed cases s far, accounting for 441 victims, each infected by one of the following PFGE Pattern Codes: JF6X01.0022, JF6X01.0122 JF6X01.041 JF6X01.0045, JF6X01.0122 JF6X01.0258 and JF6X01.0326
This outbreak is also very dangerous, with over a third of the confirmed salmonella victims requiring hospitalization (there is no estimate of the number of hospitalizations of those who did not provide a stool sample). In addition to this, the outbreak is alarming as the Salmonella Heidelberg strains presenting in this outbreak are resistant to an array of antibacterial drugs, including such antibiotics as ampicillin, gentamicin, chloramphenicol, sulfisoxazole, kanamycin, streptomycin, and tetracycline, making fighting the infection that much more difficult.
Foster Farms Investigation Began June of 2013 – Reopened March of 2014 and Ongoing
On June 17, 2013, the national disease monitoring database, PulseNet, identified a cluster of salmonella cases along the west coast, centered in California. This cluster shared the same rare PFGE pattern for Salmonella Heidelberg, which was cross matched against retail chicken isolate from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS). On June 28, 2013. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notified the U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the ongoing investigation. Within a few days, the FSIS informed the CDC that the NARMS retail chicken isolate belonged to Foster Farms brand chicken. Ironically, that same day a second cluster of Salmonella Heidelberg cases was identified.
With a growing number of victims coming in, the CDC held its first conference call with Foster Farms on the outbreaks on July 5, 2013. Foster Farms issued no recall following that conference call.
By mid-July, three more clusters had been identified, including one in Washington State, and the CDC combined the five clusters into a single investigation, with a high proportion of victims all reporting having eaten Foster Farms chicken products. At this time, FSIS and investigators from the State of California began a full-on trace-back investigation, and began to collect shopper histories.
By the end of July, 2013, the CDC was investigating 7 different PFGE patterns, all deemed linked to Foster Farms chicken–at the same time the Outbreak Response Team (ORT) determined through antimicrobial susceptibility testing that at least 4 of the 7 PFGE patterns demonstrated resistance to several commonly used antibiotics.
Then, on August 6, 2013, an “intact” leftover product from one of the victim’s homes in Washington State tested positive for one of the PFGE patterns of Salmonella Heidelberg linked to this outbreak. In the following days, the FSIS held a second telephone conference with Foster Farms and began intensive testing of Foster Farms raw chicken products. Again, Foster Farms issued no recall.
While the investigating was ongoing, and the number of victims continued to climb, the first localized outbreak was identified. On September 30, 2013, a number of victims reported eating rotisserie chicken from a Costco Store in San Francisco – Foster Farms chicken was used. Within a week, on October 7, 2013, the FSIS issued a “Notice of Intended Enforcement” to Foster Farms and released a “Public Health Alert.” The following day the CDC publically announcing its outbreak investigation. On October 11th, laboratory testing confirmed that the leftover cooked rotisserie chicken sold at the Costco in San Francisco was contaminated with one of the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg. This led to the first recall of a Foster Farms product, with the FSIS announcing the recall of 23,000 units of cooked rotisserie chicken products sold at the San Francisco Costco.
Again, Foster Farms issued no recall.
In January of 2014, the CDC indicated the outbreak was over. But soon thereafter, over fifty new cases were discovered and the investigation was reopened. Now, as of May 22, 2014, 5714 victims have been identified in 27 states and Puerto Rico, with at least seven PFGE patterns of Salmonella Heidelberg traceable back to Foster Farms facilities and Foster Farms Chicken. Still, no recall has been issued by Foster Farms.
Cockroach Infestation Closed the Livingston Plant – Problems Not Being Corrected
The massive and ongoing infection of consumers by Salmonella Heidelberg is a clear indication that the operations at the Foster Farms production facilities are inadequate and that no proper corrective action has taken place. Foster Farms has now been aware of the problem for over a year and has neither issued a full recall nor corrected the problems. And although it is not clear if there is a direct connection, in January an inspection of the Livingston, California Foster Farms facility uncovered an infestation by cockroaches so significant the facility was closed by the United States Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), a branch of the Unites States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). What is clear, from either the cockroach infestation or the outbreak of salmonella itself, is that Foster Farms Brand Chicken is being produced without proper adherence to safe and sanitary food handling and production practices.
Foster Farms, for its part, is boasting that the occurrence of salmonella in its product is below 10 percent, what is considers a low occurrence level. What is clear, however, is that Foster Farms Brand Chicken is the only major brand of poultry currently embroiled in an outbreak of this magnitude and duration. What is also clear is that potential Foster Farms salmonella lawsuits and claims are beginning to mount.
Ron Simon & Associates Currently Representing Victims
The salmonella lawyers at Ron Simon & Associates are currently representing many victims in the Foster Farms Salmonella Outbreak, most who reside in California, and is actively interviewing others. “The fact that an innocent consumer gets sick after eating a product they purchase form a local grocery store, or a restaurant, is wrong,” says national salmonella lawyer Ron Simon. And the lawyers of Ron Simon & Associates, who have handled thousands of salmonella claims, intend to seek damages, including lost wages, medical costs, and pain and suffering on behalf of its current clients, as well as other potential victims of this outbreak, by filing Foster Farms salmonella lawsuits and/or claims. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Salmonella Heidelberg, call the attorneys at Ron Simon & Associates at 713-335-4900.