Fresno-based Foster Farms, one of the nation’s leading producers of raw chicken, has finally issued a limited recall of at least one product that has been implicated in a massive outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg – raw chicken breasts. With number of illnesses still growing, including at least 600 cases in California alone, Foster Farms has resisted ever growing calls to issue a recall of its raw chicken. As such, the outbreak that includes at least seven strains of Salmonella Heidelberg has continued unabated for over a year, sickening many and hospitalizing hundreds with antibiotic resistant strains of Salmonella Heidelberg. Foster Farms’ reluctance to issue a recall of the tainted chicken has been at the center of a major public health crisis affecting at least 25 states.
This particular recall is limited to chicken produced on March 8, 10, and 11 of 2014, bearing establishment numbers P6137; P6137A and P7632 inside the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection stamp. These particular products were directly linked by patient-product testing for Salmonella Heidelberg by the Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA. The products bore the establishment numbers identifying the producer and the lot of product to which it belonged.
It was this “direct link” that is being provided as the basis of the issuance of a limited recall now, which includes only the lots actually identified by the FSIS trace-back and epidemiological investigation. The FSIS reported this direct link to the CDC on June 24th. The decision by Foster Farms, which has resisted a recall for the last year, to finally take direct action is seen by industry insiders and food safety advocates as an important first step. It is, at the least, a tacit admission by Foster Farms that its product poses a significant public health danger.
USDA Finally Taking Action
The USDA, which has jurisdiction over chicken sales (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, known as the FDA, has jurisdiction over non-meat food sales), has not forced a recall of all Foster Farms’ products even though it has known of the link between Foster Farms raw chicken and this massive Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak for nearly a year. Instead, it issued a warning to consumers reminding them of the need to properly prepare raw chicken, cooking it to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. This half-measure has been highly criticized by food safety advocates like salmonella lawyer Ron Simon. “An American consumer should not be exposed to potentially deadly bacteria that can spread so easily in a kitchen,” says Simon, noting “even cooking chicken to proper internal temperatures does not eliminate the risk of cross contamination and illness.” Simon stated: “this recall is long overdue and much too conservative.” Nonetheless, this recall is indicative that USDA is finally starting to put significant pressure on Foster Farms to bring this Salmonella Heidelberg epidemic to an end.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is continuing its investigation of these illnesses, and it is likely that this initial recall will be expanded as more and more victims are identified.