October 9th, 2013
06:00 PM ET
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture demanded that Foster Farms, the California company implicated in the Salmonella Heidelberg outbreak that has sickened over 250 people, respond by Thursday with how the company will fix the problem. The company has complied and submitted a plan to the agency.

In a letter obtained by CNN, a USDA official told the company since the beginning of the year “your establishment has had multiple regulatory non-compliances issued for insanitary conditions.”

The USDA threatened to pull federal inspectors in three Foster Farms plants which would, in effect, suspend production.

Chicken from those plants have been implicated in 278 illnesses in 18 states.

The agency has the authority to take action under the Poultry Products Inspection Act, which entrusts the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service to keep the public safe from poultry and meat products which are not wholesome, adulterated, or properly marked, labeled and packaged.

"Foster Farms is dedicated to resolving any concerns by the USDA. We are fully cooperating with FSIS during this process and are responding with new and already implemented practices in the affected plants. Some of these interventions have been in place for nearly two months and are proving to be successful. In addition, we have brought in national food safety experts to assess our processes," said Foster Farms President Ron Foster in a statement released Wednesday evening.

"Earlier this year, we implemented similar new technology and interventions which were found to be highly effective at reducing Salmonella at our Pacific Northwest facility. The FSIS has been fully satisfied with the results," Foster continued. "Despite the challenges of working with the federal government during the shutdown, we are a responsible business working that much harder in full collaboration with the USDA on a resolution."

On Thursday, The USDA released a statement saying: "Our top priority is to ensure the safety of the food Americans feed their families. Foster Farms has submitted and implemented immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations. FSIS inspectors will verify that these changes are being implemented in a continuous and ongoing basis. Additionally the agency will continue intensified sampling for at least the next 90 days."

The Centers for Disease Control first alerted FSIS to a growing number of Salmonella cases on July 1, USDA spokesman Aaron Lavallee told CNN. At the time, 18 people had been sickened in four states, and Foster Farms was a possible link between the patients. USDA investigators began "site sampling," or testing Foster Farms facilities on September 9, and concluded their analysis of the majority of the samples collected on October 7.

"The partial government shutdown did not affect the investigation or communication with the public," Lavallee said.

Fast facts on salmonella

The CDC reports that people in a normal state of health who ingest Salmonella-tainted food may experience diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, which typically begin within 12 to 72 hours. This may be accompanied by vomiting, chills, headache and muscle pains. These symptoms may last about four to seven days, and then go away without specific treatment. But left unchecked, Salmonella infection may spread to the bloodstream and beyond, and may cause death if the person is not treated promptly with antibiotics.

Children, the elderly and people with compromised immune symptoms should practice extreme caution, as salmonellosis may lead to severe illness or even death.

A notice posted on the Foster Farms website states that: "Raw poultry is not a ready-to-eat product. All raw poultry is subject to naturally occurring bacteria. Whether the raw product is our brand or another, whether there is an alert or not, all raw chicken must be prepared following safe handling procedures, avoiding cross-contamination, and must be fully cooked to 165 degrees to ensure safety."

About 48 million people contract some form of food poisoning each year, according to the CDC.

Consumer resources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Food and Drug Administration's Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts
FDA Food Safety
United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Education

Salmonella outbreak linked to tainted chicken
Who is looking out for your food safety?
A brief history of chicken washing
What? Chicken butt. Why there's salmonella in your eggs

More on food poisoning from CNN Health and all food-borne illness coverage on Eatocracy

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. shawn l

    If you cook the chicken properly, and dont spray your chicken with chicken juices and wash your hands, you wont have an issue with salmonella.

    Also don't wash your chicken in the sink. The water spray will contaminate your entire kitchen.

    October 11, 2013 at 7:20 am |
  2. SixDegrees

    "The USDA is threatening to pull federal inspectors in three Foster Farms plants which would, in effect, suspend production."

    What have those inspectors been inspecting all this time?

    October 10, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • DC

      nothing...they get paid to do nothing, which they do very well

      October 11, 2013 at 3:03 am |
    • What?

      I suppose you can see salmonella on a chicken? No? Well, neither can the inspectors.

      October 11, 2013 at 6:24 am |
  3. RichardHead@Kat

    Just wondering--What is an " insanitary condition " ?

    October 10, 2013 at 7:40 am |
    • The Smart Aleck@RichHd

      Don't dirty, crazy people get sent to insanitariums? ^_^

      October 10, 2013 at 7:50 am |
      • JellyBean

        LM AO! Hilarious... just a harmless typo.

        October 10, 2013 at 8:20 am |
  4. Thinking things through

    Apparently, people are still working in the USDA, which assures me someone is still doing something about food safety, if you think about the other recent CNN article. Fortunately, I do cook all my chicken to 165 F or better, even though I don't think Foster sells in my region.

    October 9, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • What?

      Somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-85% of USDA personnel are still "on the job". That includes the vast majority of, if not all of, the federal meat inspecors.

      I'm sure you know – but others here obviously don't (where are you, "Doug"?) – that a meat plant selling product across state lines cannot even operate unless federal inspectors are on site. That means nothing is even produced, let alone shipped.

      October 10, 2013 at 6:19 am |
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