July 16, 2024

Foster Farms Chicken Sickens 362 with Multi-Drug Resistant Salmonella

The Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak linked to Foster Farms chickens has grown, according to the CDC. Drug-resistant Salmonella in Foster Farms chicken has sickened 362 people in 21 states and Puerto Rico. Most of the ill persons (74%) live in California. Since the last update on October 18, 2013, 24 new ill persons have been reported from six states: California (16), Colorado (3), Delaware (1), Idaho (1), Michigan (1), and Texas (2). The new state is Delaware.


A total of 362 individuals infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg have been reported. The number of ill persons in each state is as follows: Alaska (1), Arkansas (1), Arizona (14), California (268), Colorado (7), Connecticut (1), Delaware (1), Florida (4), Idaho (3), Kentucky (1), Michigan (3), Missouri (5), North Carolina (1), Nevada (9), New Mexico (2), Oregon (9), Puerto Rico (1), Texas (11), Utah (2), Virginia (2), Washington (15), and Wisconsin (1).

The outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg are resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics. This antibiotic resistance may be associated with an increased risk of hospitalization or possible treatment failure in infected individuals. The hospitalization rate in this outbreak is 38%, almost twice the typical 20% rate in most Salmonella outbreaks.

But on their web site, Foster Farms is rebutting the claims that the Salmonella on their products is antibiotic-resistant, despite hospitalized patients battling the illness. They commissioned a study by the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine to look at the Salmonella found on their chickens, but not in human patients. The study found that the Foster Farms Salmonella Heidelberg samples tested were susceptible to a number of common antibiotics, including ampicillin, cephalosporins, streptomycin, fluroquinolones, amoxicillin, and others.

Foster Farms offers no explanation as to why the bacteria is resistant in humans. The CDC report states that “not all isolates from poultry exhibited the same antibiotic-resistance pattern.” The CDC also states that “information collected for cases associated with each strain indicates that each of the strains is linked to this outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg infections and that Foster Farms brand chicken is the likely source. Isolates collected from patients were resistant to combinations of the following antibiotics: ampicillin, chloramphenicol, gentamicin, kanamycin, streptomycin, sulfisoxazole, and tetracycline.”

On October 10, 2013, USDA-FSIS announced that Foster Farms submitted and implemented immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations, despite criticisms of the plants that ranged from poor sanitary dressing practices and insanitary food contact surfaces, along with no identification of Salmonella as a hazard and an inadequate HACCP. This investigation is ongoing. USDA-FSIS is prepared to take additional actions or expand the investigation based on new evidence, although as the outbreak is slowing down, nothing has been done.

Among 356 persons for whom information is available, illness onset dates range from March 1, 2013 to October 8, 2013. Ill persons range in age from less than 1 year to 93 years, with a median age of 19 years. Fifty-two percent of ill persons are male. Among 259 persons with available information, 98 (38%) reported being hospitalized. Fourteen percent of ill persons have developed blood infections as a result of their illness. Typically, approximately 5% of persons ill with Salmonella infections develop blood infections, which means these may be unusually virulent strains. No deaths have been reported.

Illnesses that occurred after September 28, 2013 might not be reported yet due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of 2 to 3 weeks.

There have been two recalls associated with this outbreak; neither was initiated by Foster Farms. Kroger recalled all Foster Farms chickens. And Costco recalled rotisserie cooked chickens and chicken products after they were linked to some of the illnesses. Salmonella in ready to eat products is an illegal adulterant.

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