Foster Farms working with feds to address salmonella contamination

Federal health experts say some of the salmonella bacteria responsible for an 18-state outbreak is resistant to antibiotics.

The Centers for Disease Control says at least one strain of bacteria involved has been identified as Salmonella Heidelberg, a common strain which may be antibiotic-resistant. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a nationwide public health alert urging proper handling and cooking practices when dealing with raw chicken.

USDA Public affairs deputy Aaron Lavallee said he was reactivated after being furloughed, to help respond to inquiries and concerns. Due to the government shutdown, many of the USDA staff are furloughed. Some key information systems at the Centers for Disease Control are not accessible. But Lavallee stressed the shutdown did not affect the agency's 135 front line investigators and their labs are still up and running.

Lavallee emphasized that Foster Farms chicken is safe to eat, but as with all raw chicken consumers must use proper preparation, handling and cooking practices.

Contrary to common practice, food safety experts now say you should never rinse raw chicken before preparing it, because rinsing splatters thousands of droplets and spreads the bacteria, which increases the chance of cross contamination. Experts emphasize the key rules of working with raw chicken:

  • Keep raw chicken separate from other foods
  • Keep raw chicken utensils and cutting surfaces separate from other utensils and surfaces
  • Wash your hands thoroughly in warm, soapy water after handling raw chicken

Cook raw chicken to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees

The USDA explained it took months of incident reports, sampling, testing and investigative leg work just to connect the dots and link the illnesses to three Foster Farms packing plants in Fresno and Livingston. But identifying the suspected source of the contamination, could not confirm exact products or specific lots to initiate a recall. Federal regulators say they are prepared to take further action depending on the outcome of the investigation.

Foster Farms addresses the health alert on its website saying the company is working with food safety inspectors and the CDC to address the outbreak reportedly linked to its plants.

Foster Farms emphasizes it's commitment to ensuring the safety of it's products and says it "has retained national experts in epidemiology and food safety technology to assess current practices and identify opportunities for further improvement."

Consumer advocates, meanwhile, are quick to point out this is the 2nd significant public health alert linked to Foster Farms salmonella. They criticize the usda for continuing to allow companies to sell raw poultry with high rates of salmonella. And they question the lack of a recall- saying consumers haven't suddenly decided they like to eat their chicken rare.