Foster Farms chicken is still making people sick.
Government officials prematurely declared the outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella poisoning that began in March 2013 over in January. But since then, new infections have continued to develop - most of them in California, where Foster Farms is headquartered.
So far the outbreak has sickened more than 500 individuals in 25 states and Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A full 37 percent of them have required hospitalization, largely because the seven rare outbreak strains of salmonella Heidelberg are resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics. Seventy-six percent of those infected have been from California.
"As the new cases have been reported, almost all of them report eating chicken and almost all say it's Foster Farms," Dr. Rob Tauxe, the CDC's deputy director of foodborne, waterborne and environmental diseases, told NBC News.
"Epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback investigations conducted by local, state and federal officials indicate that consumption of Foster Farms brand chicken is the likely source of this outbreak of salmonella Heidelberg infections," the CDC says in its latest report, released April 9.
Since the CDC's last update on March 3, 2014, a total of 43 new ill persons have been reported from five states: Arizona (2), California (34), Michigan (1), Oregon (3), Texas (2), and Washington (1).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service does not have the authority to ask Foster Farms to recall any potentially contaminated meat, as salmonella is considered a "naturally occurring" substance and not an "adulterant." (E. coli, however, is considered an adulterant. Both come from animal feces. Following the logic there?)
So it's up to Foster Farms to voluntarily issue a recall, which the company obviously has declined to do. The only other option for the FSIS is to pull its inspectors from Foster Farms' plants, thus effectively shuttering them, but FSIS's Deputy Assistant Administrator Aaron Lavallee told Squid Ink in October that he anticipated that if such a move were tried, Foster Farms would take legal action and a judge could order the inspectors to return.
Meanwhile, Foster Farms goes to great lengths on its website to explain why it is not recalling its chicken, arguing - with bullet points and footnotes, no less:
- USDA and CDPH have stated a recall is not necessary because none of our chicken products are adulterated 9,10;
- Both USDA-FSIS and the CDPH have said our chicken is safe if handled and cooked properly 11,12;
- USDA-FSIS officials inspect our product and verify our food safety processes daily; and
- USDA has rated our food safety system in the top category for efficacy for a number of years.
The company adds: "If we believed our chicken represented a greater risk to public health than any other raw poultry product on the market, we would have recalled it. In fact, we believe it is safer. Our corporate values and our care for our consumers would never allow us to offer chicken to the public that was not wholesome.
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"Our confidence in our product allows us to stand behind our 100 percent Golden Guarantee. If anyone has a concern about their chicken, for whatever reason, they should feel free to bring it back for replacement or refund."
As soon as you get out of the hospital.