If you think you are safe eating chicken as long as it's not Foster Farms, think again.
According to Consumer Reports, other major brands are processed in the same plants involved in the Foster Farms salmonella outbreak. They include Eating Right, Kirkland Signature, O Organics, Open Nature, Ralphs, Safeway Farms and Simple Truth Organic. Consumer Reports recommends avoiding all raw chicken products with any of these three plant codes on their packages: P-6137, P-6137A and P-7632.
Meanwhile, Consumer Reports has been doing its own testing of Foster Farms chicken -- which the company is refusing to voluntarily recall -- purchased from supermarkets, and guess what? They found one of the strains of salmonella implicated in the outbreak.
"That's outrageous," said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., toxicologist and executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center. "We are calling on Foster Farms and the retail outlets that sell Foster Farms chicken to recall the chicken processed at these plants. How many illnesses will they wait for before taking action?"
Consumers Union, the policy and action arm of Consumer Reports, is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees meat and poultry production, to ask Foster Farms to recall all potentially contaminated products, and to classify Foster Farms raw chickens processed at the plants as "adulterated products." That would allow the USDA to stop sales of the products and could lead to other actions. In addition, CU says the USDA should classify all antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella as adulterants.
Lawmakers are speaking out as well.
Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York, a microbiologist, released a statement saying: "It is a disgrace that the USDA, a body charged with protecting the public's food supply, has chosen to let a repeat offender like Foster Farms continue operations. Foster Farms has been cited multiple times for sanitary violations just since January of this year. They had ample opportunity after the July outbreak incident traced to their Washington state plant to clean up all their operations, but they chose not to."
"For the good of public health, Foster Farms should immediately halt shipments of raw chicken until we know exactly what product, or products, is causing this salmonella outbreak," said Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. "The fact that this has been ongoing since July is an outrageous abdication of responsibility by everyone involved. Nearly half of the people exposed to this strain of salmonella have been hospitalized. We cannot waste time when people's health is at stake."
Dr. Richard Besser, who was acting director of the Centers for Disease Control in 2009 and now the chief health and medical editor at ABC News, told Good Morning America that "Until this is over, I would still stay away from this chicken."
So far only one grocery company -- Kroger -- is removing all raw chicken products processed at the implicated plants from their stores. Those include Ralphs, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Fry's, King Soopers/City Market, Smith's (southern Nevada and New Mexico) and QFC. Gold star for you, Kroger.
Ron Foster, president of Foster Farms, says, "I am sorry for any foodborne illness associated with our fresh chicken" and that the company is now "holding ourselves to a higher standard." However, if you get sick, it is your fault: "All Foster Farms poultry products are safe and wholesome to consume when safe food handling and cooking practices are followed. Foodborne bacteria, including salmonella, are fully eliminated and present no risk with proper storage, handling and preparation." Foster Farms insists its particularly virulent strain of salmonella, antibiotic-resistant salmonella Heidelberg -- which has resulted in a 42% hospitalization rate of those infected -- is "naturally occurring."
As food-safety attorney Bill Marler told Squid Ink on Monday: "There's nothing natural about chicken shit on your meat."
The USDA's response? Government inspectors will monitor the company's improvements and sample Foster Farms meat for the next three months.
My, how very underwhelming.
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Meanwhile, if you think you have gotten sick from eating Foster Farms chicken, make sure you are counted by reporting it to your local health department. And, even if you haven't gotten sick, feel free to call Foster Farms and demand a refund if you find any of the suspect chicken in your fridge or freezer: 800-338-805.
Let's all just stick with cheeseburgers for a while.
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