The Foster Farms Salmonella outbreak sickened 430 people in 23 states and Puerto Rico before ending, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the outbreak appears to be over, the investigation of the company and the conditions at the associated processing plants continues and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) “is prepared to take additional actions or expand the investigation based on any new evidence,” the agency said.
Three of the company’s plants were linked to the outbreak. Foster Farms did not issue a recall for its chicken. On October 7, 2013, FSIS issued a public health alert about the chicken and sent letters to Foster Farms threatening closure of the plants citing conditions including insanitary food contact surfaces, insanitary non-food contact surfaces, poor sanitary dressing practices, fecal material on carcasses and “direct product contamination.”
Three days later, the agency announced that Foster Farms had “submitted and implemented immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing” and allowed the plants to remain open. Two days after that, October 12, 2013, a Costco store in South San Francisco recalled almost 40,000 pounds of rotisserie chicken products sold under the Kirkland brand name. The chicken, which had been supplied Foster Farms, had been linked to cases of Salmonella poisoning. The recall was later expanded.
Although Foster Farms has never issued a recall for its chicken, some retailers removed the chicken from their stores. Kroger removed Foster Farms chicken from all the stores that carried it including Fry’s, King Soopers, Ralphs, Fred Meyer, Food 4 Less, QFC, and Smith’s.
On January 8, FSIS closed one of the implicated Foster Farms plants located in Livingston, CA for cockroaches. In a January 7 letter to Foster Farms CEO Ron Foster, the agency said cockroach activity was observed by inspectors on four visits: September 14, November 4, December 28 and January 7. Roaches were not mentioned in the October 7 letters and it is unclear why the closure came after four roach sightings, rather than one or two or three.
On January 10, Foster Farms said the plant had received approval from FSIS to reopen. But on January 12, the company announced a short-term closure of the plant to “further expand its USDA-approved safe manufacturing procedures and monitoring systems.” At this time, the plant is closed.
For this outbreak, which overlapped with another Salmonella outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken that ended in 2013, onset of illness dates ranged from March 1, 2013 to December 26, 2013. Case patients, about 74 percent of whom lived in California, ranged in age from less than 1 year to 93 years old with a median age of 18 years. About 52 percent of them were male.
The outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg showed resistance to several commonly prescribed antibiotics. Although these antibiotics aren’t typically used to treat Salmonella bloodstream infections, antibiotic resistance can increase the risk of hospitalization, according to the CDC.
About 38 percent of the case patients in this outbreak required hospitalization. At least 13 percent developed blood infections from the Salmonella poisoning. Usually, about 5 percent of people with Salmonella infections develop blood infections, according to the CDC.
Since the last update on December 19, 2013, 14 new cases were reported, Arizona, Idaho and Virginia each reported one case, California reported 11. The totals from all states are as follows: Alaska (1), Arkansas (1), Arizona (19), California (321), Colorado (9), Connecticut (1), Delaware (1), Florida (4), Idaho (5), Illinois (1), Kentucky (1), Louisiana (1), Michigan (3), Missouri (5), North Carolina (1), Nevada (10), New Mexico (2), Oregon (10), Puerto Rico (1), Texas (10), Utah (2), Virginia (4), Washington (16), and Wisconsin (1). These numbers could go up in the next month, as illnesses occurring after December 15, 2013, might not have been reported yet.