The number of victims in the Foster Farms Chicken Salmonella Heidelberg Outbreak has topped 500 by many estimates and earlier announcements that the outbreak was over have been abandoned as new cases have been identified.
On March 3, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), verified that it had identified at least 481 Salmonella Heidelberg victims in 25 states, with over one-third of those requiring hospitalization. The victims’ illnesses have been linked by the CDC to consumption of chicken manufactured and sold by Foster Farms. See CDC Report.
The majority of the victims reside in California (365 confirmed cases-more than three-quarters of the cases so far), including a number of the victims represented by Ron Simon & Associates, a national food safety law firm. In addition, 22 victims have been identified in Arizona, 16 in Washington, 10 each in Oregon, Nevada and Texas, 9 in Colorado, 5 in Idaho and Missouri, 4 in Florida and Virginia, 3 in Michigan, and one each in Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and even one in Puerto Rico. See Outbreak Map.
This investigation was slow to develop, beginning on June 17, 2013, when the CDC was informed by PulseNet of a cluster of a rare pulse field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) pattern of Salmonella Heidelberg. The non-human retail-chicken isolate from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (MARMS) was identified as PFGE Pattern #1.
On June 28th, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) notified the CDC that it had opened a multi-state investigation of an outbreak associated with PFGE Pattern #1.
On July 2nd, the USDA-FSIS linked PFGE Pattern #1 to Foster Farms chicken, and the CDC identified a second PFGE Pattern, #2.
On July 8th, PFGE #3 was identified, and on July 12th #4 and #5 were identified.
Regardless of the overwhelming evidence that these unique PFGE patterns of Salmonella Heidelberg were linked to Foster Farms chicken, no recall was initiated by Foster Farms.
On September 30th, a cluster of salmonella illnesses was linked to rotisserie chicken sold at a San Francisco Costco. Following this, Food Safety and Inspeciton Service (FSIS) finally issued a “Notice of Intended Enforcement” to Foster Farms and released a “Public Health Alert” telling consumers to be careful to handle raw chicken with due care.
Then, on October 11th, a laboratory confirmed PFGE #1 isolate was found in cooked chicken, again at a Costco retail outlet. The next day, and in the weeks to come, Costco ordered a recall of 23,000 units of cooked rotisserie chicken products. Foster Farms, however, has refused to issue any recall of its products.
But however slow the investigation has progressed, recognition by and resolution from Foster Farms has been even slower.
According to an article published by the Los Angeles Times, dozens of victims have been identified since the initial announcement by the CDC that the outbreak had finally ended. In fact, there have been 51 new cases in January and February alone, with 44 of them in California. See LA Times Article. And there appears to be no end in sight.
Foster Farms has not issued any recall, and it remains uncertain how many of the products remain in circulation; whether there is frozen chicken in consumers freezers at present that is contaminated; whether the conditions at the Foster Farms processing plants are improved; and whether these strains of salmonella remain at high levels in the Foster Farm live poultry. Each of these are valid concerns, so much so that Consumer Reports, which does not usually publish the results of single tests, published a recent test of Foster Farms chicken in an article that was highly critical of Foster Farms and that demanded that a recall be issued. See Consumer Reports Article.
Ron Simon, one of the nation’s leading salmonella lawyers, believes these illness are not only preventable, but that Foster Farms has a legal obligation to provide food to the American consumer that is free from pathogens like salmonella. “Clearly, Foster Farms is not doing enough to safeguard the American consumer.” Simon stated.
And he is not alone–especially in the aftermath of the closure of one of Foster Farms’ primary processing plants earlier this year. According to a report filed by Lynne Terry of The Oregonian, and reported heavily in national press, a Foster Farms plant in central California was closed by the USDA on Jan. 8 over what it termed “egregious” unsanitary conditions–in short, due to a massive cockroach infestation. According to The Oregonian, the USDA had previously threatened to shut three Foster Farms plants in October, 2013, due to the severe salmonella outbreak, but backed down when Foster Farms promised to better enforce safe food production techniques. See The Oregonian Article.
National Food safety lawyer Ron Simon strongly disagrees with the USDA’s decision to allow Foster Farms to remain open. “If a plant can be closed for cockroaches,” says Simon, “allowing it to remain open when infected with life-threatening salmonella is a slap in the face.” Foster Farms president, Ron Foster, stated on January 22nd, “Although this has been a challenging time, we remain committed to the highest level of quality and food safety through all aspects of our plant operations and will emerge a stronger company.” See Foster Farms’ Press Release.
At present, Ron Simon & Associates are pursuing claims on behalf of victims of the Foster Farms Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak, both to help the victims recoup losses that include medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering, but also to force Foster Farms to clean up the way it manufactures and processes food for the innocent consumer who trusts that the chicken they buy is pathogen-free.