Foster Farms owns three poultry-processing plants in California that are now being targeted as the sources of Salmonella-contaminated poultry that have sickened 278 people in 17 states, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee.
The outbreaks of salmonella food poisoning have been occurring since last March, but the company has not instituted any recalls of its products. Although the USDA cannot directly order recalls, it can shut down those facilities by withdrawing its inspectors.
The news is even worse than it appears: apparently the strains of Salmonella associated with these outbreaks are more virulent than usual, since about 40 percent of those affected have required hospitalization about twice the typical rate. There seems to be no doubt about the source of the bacteria, since raw chickens from Foster Farms facilities have been shown to carry the same strains that are associated with the outbreak. Indeed, 25 percent of the poultry sampled by USDA inspectors carried the contaminant.
Salmonella bacteria are found in the gastrointestinal tract of chickens and can contaminate carcasses if proper sanitary practices are not followed. People who eat contaminated poultry can suffer from diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within a few days after consumption. It can be life-threatening to those with weakened immune systems.
Concerns have been raised that the current government shut-down has hampered all sorts of food inspections although the CDC has recalled furloughed workers to help deal with this outbreak, and the USDA says its inspectors are still on the job.
This outbreak underscores the crucial importance of a functioning food safety system, ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava pointed out. The fact that this outbreak has been ongoing for months shows the need for better and faster identification of the sources of contamination. The government shutdown is certainly no help in this situation, she continued.
ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, an opponent of the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in livestock says, It is important to note that of the seven strains of salmonella involved, some were highly antibiotic-resistant. Which means that treating someone who was infected by one of these strains becomes much more difficult. Although it is not yet proven that antibiotics in feed have contributed to the spread of resistant infections in humans, this is pretty damning.