What's it going to take, Ron Foster?
Another 50 people have suffered salmonella poisoning linked to Foster Farms chicken just since April, according to the Centers for Disease Control's latest report on the outbreak that started over a year ago. That's right - Foster Farms has been allowed to continue putting tainted chicken on the market for over a year.
The new cases appear to be linked to fresh, retail chicken, not chicken that had been kept in home freezers for months. That means Foster Farms' plants are still contaminated with virulent bacteria.
That's an average of eight new cases a week since the agency's last report on new infections caused by strains of antiobiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg last month.??
It brings the grand total of illnesses to 574 cases in 27 states and Puerto Rico since the outbreak began in March 2013, health officials said May 27.? Thirty-seven percent of those with the foodborne bacteria have been hospitalized.? Another 13 percent have developed blood infections, about three times the number in typical salmonella infections, the CDC said.
California, where three Foster Farms plants are located, has had the most illnesses: The current number stands at 441, which translates to 77 percent of cases.
"I think it is criminal that Foster Farms has not voluntarily closed its facilities until it stops shipping tainted product," Seattle-based food-safety attorney Bill Marler told Squid Ink.
Foster Farms remains defensive, saying in a statement: "Foster Farms is committed to leadership in food safety and producing the safest chicken on the West Coast." Excuse us while we snicker. Oh, do go on, Foster Farms: "The company continues to make steady progress that has effectively reduced Salmonella at the parts level to less than 10 percent - well below the 2011/2012 USDA-measured industry benchmark of 25 percent." The company - which calls itself "the most trusted poultry company in the western United States" - adds that salmonella incidence increases with warm weather, and also that it is your fault for not properly sterilizing your kitchen and cooking your chicken to rubbery consistency.
Meanwhile, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for refusing to respond to their 2011 petition asking the agency to declare salmonella an "adulterant," which would give the feds the power to force a recall. (Right now, salmonella is considered "naturally occurring," while E.coli is deemed an adulterant. Make sense?)
In July 2013, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack apologized to the CSPI for the delayed response to the group's petition, indicating that the agency's review was "continuing." Ten months later, the USDA still has not acted to control the dangerous salmonella strains, even though the agency's own regulations require its Food Safety and Inspection Service to take expedited action on petitions intended to enhance public health by removing pathogens from meat and poultry, according to a statement released by the CSPI.
"It is time for USDA to declare these dangerous resistant strains as adulterants and then require industry to conduct aggressive testing to keep meat and poultry contaminated with these strains out of the food supply, as it does with products contaminated with dangerous strains of E. coli," said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal.
"I think it is irresponsible that our government allows these plants to operate," Marler says. "The U.S. Attorney should prosecute Foster Farms for knowingly shipping adulterated product into interstate commerce. If they will charge cantaloupe farmers for unknowingly shipping listeria-tainted products, they should prosecute Foster Farms."
Anyone who is still eating Foster Farms, or any of the other chicken brands produced in the company's plants - which include Eating Right, Kirkland Signature, O Organics, Open Nature, Ralphs, Safeway Farms and Simple Truth Organic - clearly enjoys playing vom-roulette.
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We'd say "burgers for everyone," but then there's this.
(Gluten-free) pretzels and beer it is.