It has been one year since an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg was first identified and linked to Foster Farms raw chicken and since then the numbers of individuals affected keeps growing. Last month, an additional 43 people were added to the list of 524 people nationwide sickened by a drug-resistant strain of the bacterial infection linked to chicken processed and marketed by Foster Farms Brand, a California-based company.
The infection has hit people in 25 states and one-third of those individuals have been hospitalized. Hospitalization is necessary when the infection spreads from the intestines to the blood stream, which can be fatal. Generally that happens in Salmonella infections about five percent of the time. In this case it occurred in roughly 13 percent of cases.
Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include diarrhea, fever, and cramps that occur anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after coming in contact with the bacterial infection. Generally, a person will recover in about four to seven days without treatment.
Most of the reports of illness come from California. There are four cases in Florida, 12 in Texas 34 in Arizona and almost 400 in California. The states with the most cases of illness are in the west. The age of individuals affected range from one to 93. Fortunately no one has died.
The symptoms of Salmonella poisoning were reported March 2013 and the outbreak has not been contained since then even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially announced it was over in January of this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not have the definitive link to Foster Farms so it has not ordered a recall, nor has the company offered to voluntarily recall the meat. The fresh chicken, not frozen, appears to be the culprit.
Interestingly, last fall the federal government threatened to shut down the California-based company plants because high levels of Salmonella were detected. In response, Foster Farms lowered the level of contamination in its plants.
There is no requirement by the government that meat processing plants be free of Salmonella. The burden is on the consumer to know how to handle all meat properly.
As the weather warms up generally so do outbreaks of Salmonella since bacteria has a warmer host in which to contaminate food. The CDC recommends you wash your hands with soapy water for 20 seconds both before and after handing raw meat of any kind and also wash countertops, cutting boards, dishes and knives with hot soapy water. Do not wash the raw meat because the bacteria can easily spread to other surfaces. Putting one tablespoon of liquid bleach in a gallon of water makes a solution to safely wash and sanitize food contact surfaces.
Of the seven recent strains of Salmonella Heidelberg, 62 percent showed a resistance to one or more antibiotics and 31 percent had a multidrug resistance. That means they cannot be treated with the commonly prescribed antibiotics including ampicillin, chloramphenicol, gentamicin, streptomycin, kanamycin, tetracycline and sulfisoxazole. This appears to be a trend among all cases so far this year.
Last October, the CDC reported an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg that originated in chicken sold by Costco.