The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released a report on the 2012 – 2013 Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak linked to chicken produced by Foster Farms. A total of 134 people were infected with the outbreak strain of the bacteria in 13 states; 33 people were hospitalized, and no deaths were reported.
Most of the Salmonella cases were reported from four states in the Pacific Northwest: Washington (57), Oregon (40), Alaska (13), and California (11). Additional cases were reported in Utah (3), Idaho (2), Montana (2), Alabama (1), Virginia (1), West Virginia (1), New York (1), Hawaii (1), and Massachusetts (1). Illness onset dates ranged from June 4, 2012 to April 16, 2013. The outbreak appears to be over, based on the 5-year baseline of the expected number of cases reported each week.
Interviews found that chicken was commonly consumed by those with infections. A structured questionnaire found that 71% of patients interviewed were exposed either to Foster Farms chicken or to another brand likely produced by Foster Farms. A traceback investigation using shopper cards found that nine patients purchased Foster Farms chicken before illness onset. In addition, four unopened Foster Farms chicken samples from three patients’ homes yielded the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg.
The report also stated that Salmonella Heidelberg is “frequently isolated from retail meats and predominantly from poultry products.” And in 2010, 38% of the Salmonella Heidelberg strains isolated form retail chicken breasts were resistant to at least one class of antibiotics. Consumers should follow safe food handling instructions to protect themselves whenever they handle raw poultry products, including thorough hand washing before and after cooking poultry, avoiding cross-contamination, and thorough cooking to a temperature of 165 degrees F checked by a food thermometer.