Salmonella Outbreak Widens, But Still No Recall!

The antibiotic-resistant outbreak of salmonella linked to the Foster Farms processing plant in Livingston, California almost a year ago, continues to sicken people.

The Foster Farms outbreak is one of the biggest and longest in recent history, and is still increasing.

There have been 50 new illnesses in the last two months and 574 sickened in the United States since the outbreak started in March 2013, health officials said Tuesday. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in an update that there are about eight new salmonella illnesses linked to the outbreak each week, most of them in California, according to an April report on new infections caused by strains of the drug resistant Salmonella Heidelberg.  The CDC announced Tuesday that the outbreak has reached 27 states, including Oregon and Puerto Rico.

Ian Williams, who oversees multi-state outbreaks at the CDC, said that freshly purchased chicken, not long-stored items retrieved from a freezer, was still making people sick.

Yet, so far, there has been no recall of Foster Farms chicken.

Thirty-seven percent of people with the foodborne bacteria have been hospitalized in the outbreak that began in March 2013.

The CDC reported that about 13 percent have developed blood infections, which is about three times the number in typical salmonella infections.

Foster Farms, based in the west coast of the U.S., said in a statement that it had developed a multiple step approach to reduce or wipe out salmonella at each stage of production.

Williams said that most of the patients have reported eating a range of Foster Farms products produced on different days. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pinpointed the outbreak to three Foster Farms plants in central California, including one that it shut down in January over a cockroach infestation. Three weeks later, the plant re-opened.

“The company continues to make steady progress that has effectively reduced Salmonella at the parts level to less than 10 percent – well below the 2011/2012 USDA-measured industry benchmark of 25 percent,” the company said.

It added that the incidence of salmonella increases with warm weather.

This is not the first time Foster Farms was involved in a salmonella outbreak. In June 2012 the company’s plant in Kelso, Washington sickened 134 people, mostly in Oregon and Washington. That outbreak ended in April 2013.

Both outbreaks involved antibiotic strains of Salmonella Heidelberg, which can cause a higher hospitalization rate and pose problems for treatment. Williams said in the latest outbreak that of 61 patients tested, 38 showed resistance to at least one antibiotic and 19 were resistant to several drugs. Seven antibiotic strains have been detected.

Antibiotic resistance poses a significant public health threat, though none was resistant to drugs used to treat severe salmonella infections. We worry that in the future infections that are now easily treatable could be fatal.

Both federal and world health authorities have warned against the misuse of antibiotics, according to Jonathan Kaplan, head of food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Scientists know that when chicken producers use antibiotics routinely, some bacteria become resistant and escape into the environment,” Kaplan wrote in a statement. “Is this happening at Foster Farms?”

The family owned company has declined to disclosed details about its antibiotic use, Kaplan said. It also has not released specifics about measures taken to fight salmonella contamination.

Even after reports of 574 people sickened by Foster Farms’ chicken, still no recall has been issued.  Especially since this is not the company’s first salmonella outbreak.  The CDC reported that “fresh chicken” from Foster Farms is “still making people sick,” so why are they permitted to continue to sell chicken?

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