Foster Farms Responds to Chicken Salmonella Outbreaks

Foster Farms Responds to Chicken Salmonella Outbreaks
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Foster Farms chicken may have infected and sickened more than 10,000 people, due to contamination of the meat with fecal material.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Salmonella causes more hospitalizations than any other foodborne illness, more deaths than any other foodborne illness, and it’s on the rise. Salmonella causes a million cases of food poisoning every year in the U.S., and over the last decade or so, the number of cases have “increased by 44%”—particularly among children and the elderly. And, chicken is the #1 cause.

From spring 2012 to spring 2013, the Centers for Disease Control reported over 100 individuals infected across 13 states with a particularly virulent strain of salmonella. One in three were hospitalized. Investigations pointed to Foster Farms-brand chicken as the most likely cause of the outbreak—the sixth largest chicken producer in the U.S. The CDC warned people, but nothing was done. Foster Farms apparently continued to pump out contaminated meat. In October, the CDC-reported outbreak expanded to 21 states.

Though there’s only been a few hundred cases confirmed, for every confirmed case, the CDC estimates 38 cases slip through the cracks. So, that means Foster Farms chicken may have infected and sickened over 10,000 people.

When USDA inspectors went in to investigate, they found 25% of the chicken they sampled was contaminated with the outbreak strain of salmonella—likely because of all the “fecal [matter they found] on [the] carcasses.”

Consumer Reports, in their February 2014 issue, published a study they did on the high cost of cheap chicken in general, finding 97% of retail chicken breasts off store shelves were contaminated with bacteria that could make people sick. 38% of the salmonella they found was resistant to multiple antibiotics, and considered a serious public health threat by the CDC. Consumer Reports suggested the “cramped conditions” on factory chicken farms may be playing a role. And, indeed, new research shows the stress of overcrowding can increase salmonella invasion.

The Pew Commission released a special report on the Foster Farms outbreaks, concluding that the outbreaks “bring into sharp focus the ineffectiveness” of USDA’s approach to “minimizing salmonella contamination in poultry products. The agency’s response…was inadequate to protect public health.” And, to this date, “thousands of people are getting sick with [these] preventable foodborne illnesses.” Among their radical recommendations: “Close facilities [that are] failing to produce safe food, and keep them closed” until their products stop sending people to the hospital.

What did Foster Farms have to say for itself? They said their chicken was “safe to eat,” there’s still “no recall in effect,” and that it is “Grade A wholesome.” In the same breath, though, they say salmonella on chicken happens all the time. Grade A wholesome, but might kill us if we don’t handle it right.

As outspoken food safety advocate Bill Marler put it, the poultry industry’s reaction to the presence of fecal contamination on chicken is that “[it] Happens.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Images thanks to jillmotts, EssjayNZ, and snowpea&bokchoi via flickr; and Grendelkhan via Wikimedia

 

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Salmonella causes more hospitalizations than any other foodborne illness, more deaths than any other foodborne illness, and it’s on the rise. Salmonella causes a million cases of food poisoning every year in the U.S., and over the last decade or so, the number of cases have “increased by 44%”—particularly among children and the elderly. And, chicken is the #1 cause.

From spring 2012 to spring 2013, the Centers for Disease Control reported over 100 individuals infected across 13 states with a particularly virulent strain of salmonella. One in three were hospitalized. Investigations pointed to Foster Farms-brand chicken as the most likely cause of the outbreak—the sixth largest chicken producer in the U.S. The CDC warned people, but nothing was done. Foster Farms apparently continued to pump out contaminated meat. In October, the CDC-reported outbreak expanded to 21 states.

Though there’s only been a few hundred cases confirmed, for every confirmed case, the CDC estimates 38 cases slip through the cracks. So, that means Foster Farms chicken may have infected and sickened over 10,000 people.

When USDA inspectors went in to investigate, they found 25% of the chicken they sampled was contaminated with the outbreak strain of salmonella—likely because of all the “fecal [matter they found] on [the] carcasses.”

Consumer Reports, in their February 2014 issue, published a study they did on the high cost of cheap chicken in general, finding 97% of retail chicken breasts off store shelves were contaminated with bacteria that could make people sick. 38% of the salmonella they found was resistant to multiple antibiotics, and considered a serious public health threat by the CDC. Consumer Reports suggested the “cramped conditions” on factory chicken farms may be playing a role. And, indeed, new research shows the stress of overcrowding can increase salmonella invasion.

The Pew Commission released a special report on the Foster Farms outbreaks, concluding that the outbreaks “bring into sharp focus the ineffectiveness” of USDA’s approach to “minimizing salmonella contamination in poultry products. The agency’s response…was inadequate to protect public health.” And, to this date, “thousands of people are getting sick with [these] preventable foodborne illnesses.” Among their radical recommendations: “Close facilities [that are] failing to produce safe food, and keep them closed” until their products stop sending people to the hospital.

What did Foster Farms have to say for itself? They said their chicken was “safe to eat,” there’s still “no recall in effect,” and that it is “Grade A wholesome.” In the same breath, though, they say salmonella on chicken happens all the time. Grade A wholesome, but might kill us if we don’t handle it right.

As outspoken food safety advocate Bill Marler put it, the poultry industry’s reaction to the presence of fecal contamination on chicken is that “[it] Happens.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Images thanks to jillmotts, EssjayNZ, and snowpea&bokchoi via flickr; and Grendelkhan via Wikimedia

 

Nota del Doctor

Salmonella contamination is also a problem in the U.S. egg supply, sickening more than 100,000 people every year (see Total Recall).

Other pathogens in meat include yersinia enterocolitica in pork (see Yersinia in Pork), staphylococcus (see U.S. Meat Supply Flying at Half Staph), MRSA (see MRSA in U.S. Retail Meat), hepatitis E (see Hepatitis E Virus in Pork), bladder-infecting E. coli (see Avoiding Chicken To Avoid Bladder Infections), clostridium difficile (see Toxic Megacolon Superbug), and campylobacter, the most common bacterial chicken pathogen (see Poultry & Paralysis).

Poultry appears to cause the most outbreaks, but is all chicken to blame equally? See Superbugs in Conventional vs. Organic Chicken.

How is it legal for Foster Farms to continue to ship out meat known to be contaminated with a dangerous pathogen? See Why is Selling Salmonella-Tainted Chicken Legal? And, stay tuned to learn more in Chicken Salmonella Thanks to Meat Industry Lawsuit.

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