Oregon salmonella numbers up sharply in '12

Experts say four steps can prevent infection

A rise in salmonella illnesses in 2012 linked to chicken in Oregon and Washington is a reminder that all poultry products carry the risk of contamination, but proper handling and preparation of chicken will help people avoid illness, officials said Wednesday.

Last year, Oregon saw 56 cases of Salmonella Heidelberg, a marked increase over previous years. All of the people reportedly have recovered from their illnesses; there have been no deaths associated with the outbreak, officials said. During 2007-2011, there was an average of 27 annual reported cases in our state.

"The 2012 salmonellosis outbreak is a wake-up call," says Paul Cieslak, M.D., of the Oregon Public Health Division. "While these outbreaks are unfortunate, they're also preventable if people take the proper steps when storing, handling and preparing raw poultry products."

Salmonellosis, a common foodborne illness, is an infection with the Salmonella bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. But salmonellosis can be avoided by handling chicken with care and cooking it to the right temperature.

In 2012, 43 of the 56 confirmed human cases of infection by Salmonella Heidelberg bacteria in Oregon were caused by a particular strain linked to chicken processed by Foster Farms, according to patient reports and laboratory testing of randomly purchased chicken. There has been no recall issued.

"Chicken is safe when it's prepared and cooked correctly," Cieslak says. "Although these cases are linked to a specific brand, there is also some risk of salmonellosis from uncooked poultry products of any brand. Poultry is routinely contaminated with Salmonella and other illness-causing bacteria. If people clean, separate, cook and chill poultry properly, they can avoid illness."

To keep food safe from harmful bacteria:

1.     Clean. People should wash their hands thoroughly before and after handling meat. Clean all food preparation surfaces, cooking utensils and cookware after they come in contact with raw poultry.

2.     Separate. When handling poultry, keep it and its juices away from ready-to-eat foods. Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.

3.     Cook. Always cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

4.     Chill. Uncooked poultry should be refrigerated no longer than two days and kept in the freezer no more than four months. Cooked poultry can be refrigerated for three to four days and frozen for two to three months.

OHA's Public Health Division is working with Washington State Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention to track cases of salmonellosis and to promote food safety. 

Symptoms usually develop within one to five days of exposure to the contaminated product. Some people with salmonellosis develop serious illness that can lead to hospitalization and even death, Cieslak says, although many people who get the infection have mild symptoms that resolve on their own.

More information:

*     Oregon Public Health's salmonellosis information page: http://public.health.oregon.gov/HEALTHYENVIRONMENTS/FOODSAFETY/Pages/tips.aspx

*     OPHD's county-by-county salmonellosis illness data http://public.health.oregon.gov/DiseasesConditions/DiseasesAZ/salmonellosis/Documents/salmonella-h-outbreak2012.pdf

*     Washington State Public Health: http://www.doh.wa.gov/

*     USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service's poultry preparation tips: www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Chicken_from_Farm_to_Table/index.asp#12

*     CDC's food safety website: www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/


Foster Farms issued the following statement in response:

February 14, 2013

The safety and quality of our poultry products is Foster Farms' utmost priority. There is no recall in effect for any brand of chicken related to the Oregon Health Authority announcement as it is widely known that all raw chicken must be responsibly handled and properly prepared to ensure safety and quality. All raw chicken, like all raw meats, can contain bacteria that can be harmful to human health. For this reason, all raw chicken must be fully cooked to ensure safety and quality. Bacteria on food, including salmonella, are fully eliminated and present no risk with proper storage, handling and preparation.

Foster Farms does everything it can to ensure the safety of our poultry products within our facilities and our testing results demonstrate excellence. However, there is always room to provide more education and awareness about food safety practices. We want all consumers to have a safe and satisfying experience with chicken products.

Foster Farms reminds consumers that raw poultry should not be allowed to cross-contaminate other foods or food preparation surfaces. All raw poultry products should be prepared according to package guidelines and cooked to at least an internal temperature of 165 degrees F to guarantee that they have been fully cooked.  Following these guidelines will ensure the safety and quality of all raw poultry products. Visit www.fosterfarms.com to learn more or call the Foster Farms Consumer Hotline: 800-338-1107.

Since 2005, testing results for Salmonella from the USDA-FSIS in the Pacific Northwest have consistently been well below the limits set for raw poultry. This indicates that our Pacific Northwest facilities maintained consistent process control for Salmonella. Our facilities have earned and maintained Category 1 classification - the highest performance category for Salmonella safety and control - for the last seven years.

As an industry leader, Foster Farms constantly reviews and implements new technology and practices deemed effective as part of its commitment to improving the microbial safety of poultry products.

About Foster Farms

Since 1939, West Coast families have depended on Foster Farms for premium quality chicken products. Family-owned and operated, the company continues its legacy of excellence and commitment to quality established by its founders, Max and Verda Foster. Foster Farms specializes in fresh, all natural chicken products free of preservatives, additives or injected sodium enhancers.

Food safety is Foster Farms' highest priority, and the company would like to remind consumers to always follow safe handling, preparation and storage guidelines for the preparation of fresh poultry products. All fresh poultry products should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F to ensure optimal quality and safety.

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