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article imageOp-Ed: No solution in sight for salmonella outbreak in U.S.

By Karen Graham     May 28, 2014 in Food
The safety of the poultry we buy in the grocery store is of the utmost concern to consumers, and it should be of concern to the government and the companies that process the chickens. But somewhere along the line, things have gotten out of control.
Foster Farms of Livingston, California has been in the news since March 2013, when an outbreak of salmonella was confirmed to have been linked to the company's fresh chicken products. The salmonella outbreak has turned out to be the longest and biggest in recent history in the United States.
The complexities of the outbreak were brought home on Tuesday when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an update confirming an additional 50 people have suffered from salmonella poisoning linked to Foster Farms chicken, bringing the total to 574 cases since the outbreak started in March 2013.
The CDC said the number of new cases was averaging about eight a week since an April 2014 report on new infections caused by strains of drug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg. About 37 percent of those infected with the food-borne bacteria have been hospitalized since the outbreak started.
Persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg  by State since May 22  2014.
Persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Heidelberg, by State since May 22, 2014.
CDC
According to the report, the disease has now been confirmed in 27 states, including Oregon and Puerto Rico. Freshly purchased chicken, and not products stored in the freezer, seems to be the culprit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says the outbreak is limited to three Foster Farms plants in central California, including one that was shut in January over a cockroach infestation. That plant reopened three weeks later.
Even though no deaths have been reported, Ian Williams, who oversees multistate outbreaks with the CDC, says at least 13 percent of those infected have ended up with blood infections, three times the average for typical salmonella infections. "People are still getting sick, but we're heading in the right direction," said Williams.
Not the first time for Foster Farms
A salmonella outbreak in 2012 and 2013 was traced to Foster Farms chicken grown in California and Oregon. When this earlier outbreak ended, the CDC confirmed 134 people in 13 states had become infected with salmonella Heidelberg infections traced to Foster Farms chicken.
There were 57 Salmonella Heidelberg cases in Washington state and 40 in Oregon between June of 2012 and January of 2013, and of those cases, 31 percent were hospitalized. All were linked to Foster Farms chicken.
One thing about the Foster Farms outbreak that was confusing and for that matter, is still confusing is why the three plants in Fresno and Livingston, California were not closed down after the 2012 outbreak. Neither Foster Farms or the USDA can come up with a good answer that explains why a specific drug-resistant strain of Salmonella Heidelberg ended up contaminating so much chicken, and from more than one plant.
It seems the CDC was on Foster Farms' case even before 2012. In 2004, According to the CDC, Foster Farms chicken was found to be infected with the Heidelberg strain. What they found was that the problem wasn’t necessarily with Foster Farms or its production system, but with the "oversight the production system receives in addressing the rising presence of a very virulent strain of salmonella."
"The historical significance of this pattern in the Pacific Northwest suggests the need for ongoing surveillance and intervention to prevent additional illnesses,” says the report, noting that antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella have been increasing, and not decreasing.
In answer to the CDC report, the USDA-FSIS announced that all companies producing not ready-to-eat poultry products were to reassess their "Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plans.” This announcement raised even more questions. Was the USDA following up on its announcement, and was the USDA upgrading its own “hazard analysis” plan to meet the new requirements?
While more questions have popped up than is necessary, it is obvious to this consumer that nothing came of the USDA's Hazard Analysis assessment, including any follow-up that could have resulted in the closure of the plants in question. It is also apparent, especially with the number of recalls the past several weeks, that the USDA is in need of a "fix," like the Veteran's Administration.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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