The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) should shut down Foster Farms poultry processing facilities until a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened over 600 people is stopped, according to two US Congresswomen.
Rosa DeLauro and Louise Slaughter questioned how many more people would fall ill before USDA cracks down on the public health threat.
As of July 2,621 people infected with seven outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg have been reported from 29 states and Puerto Rico, since March 1, 2013, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
36% have been hospitalized, no deaths have been reported and most ill persons (77%) are from California.
‘Shameful way to protect public health’
“Burying news late at night on a holiday weekend may be a time-honored tradition by Washington spin doctors, but it is a shameful way to protect public health,” the representatives said.
“We have been saying for months that tainted chicken does not belong on the grocery stores shelves or the dinner tables of American families.
“How many more people will fall ill, or even be hospitalized, before USDA does the right thing and cracks down on companies that threaten our families’ health and safety?”
Foster Farms recalled an undetermined amount of chicken products that may be contaminated with a particular strain of Salmonella Heidelberg last week.
FSIS requested the recall because the product is known to be associated with a specific illness.
The chicken products were produced from March 7-13 and shipped to Costco, Foodmaxx, Kroger, Safeway and other retail stores and distribution centers in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
Foster Farms said products sold under its or private label brand names produced in March with varying “use or freeze by” dates from March 16-31, 2014 and Sunland frozen chicken products that have a "best by" date of March 7-11, 2015 are involved.
FSIS was notified by CDC of a Salmonella Heidelberg illness on June 23, associated with boneless skinless chicken breast product.
FSIS and CDC determined there is a link between boneless skinless chicken breast products from Foster Farms and this illness.
Based on FSIS’ epidemiological and traceback investigations, one case-patient has been identified in California with an illness onset date of May 5, 2014.
“Until this point, there had been no direct evidence that linked the illnesses associated with this outbreak to a specific product or production lot,” said FSIS.
“Evidence that is required for a recall includes obtaining case-patient product that tests positive for the same particular strain of Salmonella that caused the illness, packaging on product that clearly links the product to a specific facility and a specific production date, and records documenting the shipment and distribution of the product from purchase point of the case-patient to the originating facility.”
Act targets ambiguity
The Congresswomen introduced the Pathogens Reduction and Testing Reform Act last month to give USDA clear authority to keep pathogens out of the meat and poultry supply chain.
The bill would require USDA to recall any meat, poultry, or egg product contaminated by pathogens associated with serious illness or death or that are resistant to two or more critically important antibiotics for human medicine.
As it stands USDA only issues a recall if a meat, poultry, or egg product is considered “adulterated” – a term that is ambiguously defined in current law, said the Congresswomen.
“This bill would allow USDA to prevent dangerous, antibiotic-resistant pathogens from ever getting to supermarkets in the first place. House leadership should take up this bill immediately before any more American consumers fall victim,” they said.