Year-Long Salmonella Outbreak Still Going Strong without a Foster Farms Recall

Thursday, May 29, 2014
(photo: Libor Tomáštík)

For those who are keeping count during the nation’s yearlong bout of multi-drug-resistant salmonella poisoning linked to Foster Farms, 574 people in 27 states and Puerto Rico have been sickened since March 1, 2013, and 50 new cases have been reported in the last two months.

Most of the sick people (77%) are in California, according to a report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). No deaths have been reported, but even if they had, it would not have precipitated a product recall for the Foster Farms facilities in California linked to the foul food.

The government doesn’t have the power to insist on a recall and Foster Farms doesn’t seem inclined to do one on their own, although Costco initiated one in October at two of its stores that sold the birds. Instead, they have apologized for making people ill, announced they would tidy up their chicken factories and vowed to pump more antibiotics into their birds.

A tally of the afflicted by the CDC found a median age of 18, with a range of 1 to 93 years old. Around 37% were hospitalized, about double the norm. Thirteen percent developed blood infections, higher than the usual 5% for Salmonella infections.

“It is not unusual for raw poultry from any producer to have salmonella bacteria,” the CDC casually informs readers on its webpage, but “it is uncommon to have multidrug-resistant salmonella bacteria.” The centers estimate that 1 million people a year are sickened by salmonella and it is the Number 1 pathogen leading to hospitalization.

The reasoning behind not requiring recalls is that the poisoning is preventable if people properly handle and cook the product. That was also the reasoning behind not requiring recalls of meat contaminated with e.coli until the 1990s when an outbreak spawned by Jack-in-the-Box ground beef killed four kids, sickened around 700 more and caused permanent debilitating illnesses, including kidney and brain damage, among 200 unlucky souls.

Although meat producers argued that they couldn’t possibly eliminate e.coli from their facilities, they quickly did when forced to. No such demands were made over salmonella, as regulators heeded the 1974 APHA v. Butz ruling by the D.C. District Court of Appeals that noted, “American housewives . . . normally are not ignorant or stupid and their methods of preparing and cooking of food do not ordinarily result in salmonellosis.”  

Contaminated food makes one out of every six Americans ill each year. More than 100,000 end up in a hospital and 3,000 die. Most just feel sick and wonder if they caught the flu, drank some tainted water or inhaled some noxious pollutants.

The good news is that the rate of infection linked to Foster Farms is slowly declining. “It suggests to us that they are starting to address the problem,” Dr. Ian Williams of the CDC told the Sacramento Bee. Then again, Williams said a lot more people are probably getting sick than are actually reported to the authorities. 

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

No End Yet to Salmonella Outbreak Tied to Chicken (by Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press)

Why Foster Farms Hasn’t Recalled Chickens after Salmonella Poisonings (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

97% of All Chicken Breasts in U.S. Found to Contain Harmful Bacteria (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Multistate Outbreak of Multidrug-Resistant Salmonella Heidelberg Infections Linked to Foster Farms Brand Chicken (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Leave a comment