USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is more than half way through a 90-day period of intensified sampling and testing of chicken products from Foster Farms chicken plants in California as part of the government response to a large and unusual outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg. While it is not uncommon for raw poultry from any producer to contain Salmonella, the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria as seen in the Foster Farms outbreak is unusual, California State Health Officer Ron Chapman has said.
Food poisoning lawyer Fred Pritzker said the large scale of the outbreak — including 288 illnesses in California alone — and the antibiotic resistance of the Salmonella will make for important, powerful litigation. Pritzker is president and lead attorney of a firm that represents Foster Farms Salmonella case patients. He said he is concerned about the severity and length of illness resulting from complications that go along with the bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that several of the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg are resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics and such resistance is associated with an increased risk of hospitalization.
The latest CDC update on the Foster Farms chicken Salmonella outbreak indicates that nearly 390 people in 23 states have been sickened. Forty percent of case patients have been hospitalized and no deaths have been reported. This outbreak has been highlighted by a public health alert, a threatened shutdown of a Foster Farms chicken plant and a set of Costco Foster Farm chicken recalls.
Pritzker said seven strains of Salmonella Heidelberg have been included in the investigation, which has been based on epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback information. The information collected for cases associated with each strain indicates that each of the strains is linked to this outbreak in which Foster Farms brand chicken is the likely source, according to the CDC’s Salmonella Homepage.
CDC’s NARMS laboratory conducted antibiotic-resistance testing on isolates collected from ten ill persons infected with three of the seven outbreak strains. Nine of the isolates exhibited drug resistance to one or more commonly prescribed antibiotics. Of those, three were multidrug resistant. Strains of the Foster Farms Salmonella have shown resistance to combinations of the following antibiotics: ampicillin, chloramphenicol, gentamicin, kanamycin, streptomycin, sulfisoxazole, and tetracycline. Antimicrobial resistance may increase the risk of treatment failure in infected individuals, public health officials have said.
On October 10, 2013, USDA-FSIS announced that Foster Farms implemented immediate changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations. FSIS inspectors will verify that these changes are being implemented on a continuous and ongoing basis. Additionally, the agency said October 10 it would continue intensified sampling and testing of chicken products from these facilities for at least the next 90 dayys.
In a recent blog posting by FSIS Administrator Al Almanza, he said a key to preventing pathogen contamination is for establishments to check four times more often for fecal material. Pritzker said one of the broad-based benefits of the Foster Farms chicken lawsuit could be systematic improvement in controlling fecal matter at all major poultry processing plants in the U.S. Salmonella and other pathogens, including Campylobacter and E. coli, grow in the intestines of animals and can be released during the slaughtering process to contaminate finished packages of raw meat.