Foster Farms Salmonella Outbreak Isn't Over, CDC Says

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An outbreak of illnesses caused by drug-resistant salmonella linked to Foster Farms chicken isn’t over after all, government health officials said Monday.

At least 481 people in 25 states and Puerto Rico have been sickened since March 1, 2013, by seven different strains of salmonella Heidelberg tied to poultry parts produced by Foster Farms.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had declared the outbreak over on Jan. 16, when there were 430 cases in 23 states and Puerto Rico. Since then, 51 more cases were detected.

“The investigation continued and ongoing surveillance in February identified that infections from two of the previously rare outbreak strains have again exceeded the number of infections expected to be reported to PulseNet during this time of year,” officials said in a statement Monday.

PulseNet is the CDC’s system that scans DNA fingerprints of bacteria to find clusters of disease.

Epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback investigations by local, state and federal officials have tied Foster Farms chicken to the illnesses. The strains of salmonella are resistant to commonly used drugs, which means it’s harder to treat people who fall ill. Thirty-eight percent of people who have been sickened have been hospitalized, the CDC said.

Federal officials shut down a Foster Farms plant in Livingston, Calif., after discovering a cockroach infestation in January. The plant, which later reopened, was one of three processing sites that fell under increased surveillance by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service last fall.

Since then, the firm has reduced the prevalence of salmonella in chicken parts to less than 10 percent, well below the industry benchmark of 25 percent, company officials said in a statement late Monday. FSIS officials said they continue to verify the effectiveness of Foster Farm's efforts to reduce salmonella and that the firm has implemented a number of practices to lower salmonella rates.

The company has issued no recalls for any of its chicken products and USDA officials haven’t demanded any.