Shutdown Slows Federal Response to Salmonella Outbreak that Started in California

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

A salmonella outbreak that started in California and reaches into at least 18 states would be bad news under any circumstances, but the government shutdown has complicated matters in ways that might not be evident to casual observers.

The  U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Tuesday that raw chicken from three Foster Farms plants in California have been linked to at least 278 illnesses from strains of Salmonella Heidelberg. Nearly half the victims have ended up in the hospital. The outbreak triggered action by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), both of which have been hamstrung by the week-old shutdown.

The FSIS, which is part of the USDA, has not been shuttered by the shutdown, but it is working with reduced staff, according to Reuters. The USDA website, itself, is down “due to the lapse in federal funding.” The Associated Press reported that the CDC has recalled some furloughed workers to help with the outbreak. The CDC coordinates multi-state outbreaks like this by organizing local and state resources to detect it, define its size and identify the source.

Although the two agencies are functioning, the shutdown has closed PulseNet, a network of public health labs that spots trends and matches reports to spot food-borne illness outbreaks, and FoodNet, another foodborne detection service.

Salmonella Heidelberg is among the more common strains of the pathogen. Its symptoms include fever, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, nausea and vomiting, usually appear within 72 hours of exposure and can last a week. Products from facilities that produced the chicken have the following numbers on their USDA mark of inspection: P6137, P6137A or P7632.

The government shutdown started when House Republicans, after refusing to negotiate or pass a federal budget since April, targeted the shutdown date and the federal debt ceiling deadline on October 17 as leverage for compelling the Democratic Senate and President Barack Obama to accept their policy agenda on a wide range of issues. Although their demands have shifted from day to day, they prominently include defunding or delaying Obamacare.

The budget Republicans refuse to vote for includes the draconian 10% across-the-board sequester cuts that have crippled government agencies for months and Democrats have decried and roughly matches in size the budget promoted by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), Senator John McCain’s (R-Arizona) running mate in 2012.  

Republican politicians and conservative news media have maintained that there have been only a few minor shutdown disruptions, which have been ginned up by Democrats as propaganda tools. Fox News calls the shutdown a “slimdown.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

There’s a Major Foodborne Illness Outbreak and the Government Is Shut Down (by Maryn McKenna, Wired)

Government Shutdown Slows Response To Salmonella Outbreak, Halts Flu Tracking (by Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press)

Hundreds Sickened in U.S. from Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Raw Chicken (by Ros Krasny, Reuters)

New Salmonella Outbreak in Chicken Resists Antibiotics (by Elizabeth Weise, USA Today)

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