Two giant poultry processors have been linked to serious food poisoning outbreaks in the past few years. One, Foster Farms, was the source of chicken tainted with antibiotic-resistant Salmonella that sickened almost seven hundred people. Despite objections from food safety experts, that company only issued a small recall of chicken produced over a period of one week in March 2014. Other retailers such as Costco did issue recalls of Foster Farms chicken, including rotisserie chickens that were professionally cooked.
The second, Koch Poultry, under the name Aspen Foods, was the source of frozen breaded stuffed chicken tainted with Salmonella. While the company did recall products linked to an outbreak last summer, they refused to issue a new recall when the USDA requested it after finding issues at the plant this week. On Thursday, the USDA issued a public health alert and ordered inspectors to seize any product they found in commerce.
Foster Farms has had quite a history of problems with Salmonella and its chicken. It’s hard to tell if there were two separate outbreaks, one in 2013 and one in 2014, or if it was just one large outbreak that extended over a period of months.
In October 2013, USDA issued an alert about Foster Farms chicken and a Salmonella outbreak. But, instead of ordering a recall, the government just warned consumers to handle the product with care and cook chicken carefully and thoroughly. Despite those warnings, an outbreak linked to Foster Farms products sickened at least 634 people in 29 states was finally declared over in July 2014.
The CDC stated about the outbreak,”Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations conducted by local, state, and federal officials indicated that consumption of Foster Farms brand chicken was the source of this outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg infections.” But they also stated that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) has determined that measures under taken by the firm to minimize Salmonella contamination of raw chicken have been successful.”
That last statement was made after USDA threatened to pull inspectors from three of Foster Farms’ facilities because sanitary conditions were so poor. Perhaps it was the company’s work on Salmonella remediation that did prevented seizure of the product.
Koch Poultry, which owns Aspen Farms, issued a recall of almost 2,000,000 pounds of frozen, raw, stuffed and breaded chicken products in July 2015 that were linked to a Salmonella outbreak. (There was also a separate Salmonella outbreak at the time linked to recalled Barber Foods frozen stuffed chicken products.)
However, months later, USDA investigations found that the Aspen Foods plant was still contaminated with Salmonella bacteria, discovered as they were conducting “intensified sampling” at the plant after the recall. That testing revealed twelve samples positive for the outbreak strain of Salmonella Enteritidis. The company’s efforts to reduce Salmonella contamination were not working.
Because the bacteria is still present at the facility, USDA is telling consumers not to eat the product, even if thoroughly cooked, and is telling personnel to detain products found in commerce “because the company has refused to recall the products.” Some of those sickened in the Aspen Foods outbreak told government investigators that they cooked the chicken products according to package directions and used a food thermometer to make sure the product was thoroughly cooked before they ate it. They still got sick.
The lesson here is that consumers have to be vigilant about food safety, especially if they fall into a high risk group. Unfortunately, foods, especially raw meat and poultry, will be sold contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. The consumer has to handle the food with care, not wash poultry before cooking, avoid cross-contamination, wash hands, utensils, and work surfaces thoroughly with soap and water, and cook foods to safe internal temperatures tested with a food thermometer.
Still, even with all those precautions, some foods, as with the Koch Poultry/Aspen Foods chicken, can still make you sick. If you have eaten any frozen, stuffed, breaded chicken product in the past few months and have experienced the symptoms of food poisoning, see your doctor.
Those symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, chills, headache, muscle pains, and blood in the stool. Even if you recover without treatment, the long term consequences of this infection can be serious, including irritable bowel syndrome, immunological problems, heart disease, and arthritis.